First off, don’t be put off by the title: wait, read, and you’ll realise how touching and evocative seven simple words that appear to tell you nothing can actually be. Promise. This is a novel which cements itself in your consciousness: once read, that deceptively simple title will be forever remembered (and yes, that may be ever-so-slightly clichéd and hyperbolic, but I’m trying to emphasise that the fact that you really should read this book).
‘I can’t remember the last time I read for pleasure’ is a common complaint I hear amongst arts students at St Andrews. ‘How do you find the time? I have so much to do.’ Reading for enjoyment takes a back seat during the horrific deadline filled days of week seven and eight, but this mesmerising book is easy to read, quick and brilliant – the perfect way to reward yourself for that twenty minutes burst of academic energy you just completed. Warning though, it may be wise to wait until after the assignments are complete because, as my old English teacher cautioned my class, a good book is one of the easiest ways to procrastinate. And she was right because rather than prolifically trawling through Buzzfeed, Netflix or Youtube, reading feels vaguely educational: and, that, is exactly how I read My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You instead of writing an essay on Imperial Expansion last week. I may have fallen slightly in love during the process, but I also ran out of time to proofread.
Louisa Young’s fourth adult novel is, at its core, a love story.
Set amidst the desperation of the First World War, this is probably is one of the most captivating stories of war I have read since Faulks’ Birdsong. Managing to balance gracefulness with brutality, Young builds upon the rich, strange details of conflict and begins modestly with “My dear_____, I want to tell you, before my telegram arrives, that I was admitted to ________ on _________ with a slight/serious wound in my ________.” It revolves around the lies of warfare: she poignantly explores the violent and schizophrenic world into which young men were suddenly thrown in to: trench warfare. Perhaps even more haunting, however, is the contrast of the muddy trenches of France to London society which yearns to hold on to its class system, and how young men are forced to reconcile the two. She depicts how a soldier can watch his friend die on the Friday, and on the Sunday be strolling through Hyde Park as children play. It is the jarring nature of the novel which, arguably, allows for such an accurate and honest representation of life during wartime – not only for the soldiers, but also for their loved ones too.
My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, then, is first and foremost a love story. Whilst hindsight tells us that peace will not be absolute, Louisa Young’s novel beautifully epitomises the universal desire for it to be so.