The First World War has been the subject of countless books over the years, and no more so than now, during the ongoing centenary commemorations. Two new and rather similar sweeping novels explore the ripples and ruptures to society brought about by the trauma of four years of fighting.
Clare Clark’s focus, as the title of her carefully plotted We That Are Left implies, is mainly on those who never fought – because they were too young, too old or female – but who were still affected by the battles across the Channel. Some of her characters seize on the opportunities available to their sex or class, while others remain unsure whether to embrace this new world or wait patiently for the old one to rock gently back onto its axis.
It’s an old conceit, but one Clark injects with some degree of novelty by having the status quo represented not by a person but by Ellinghurst, the Melville family’s estate in the New Forest. Sir Aubrey wants to save it for future generations; cousin Evelyn can’t wait to sell it