Love found during the turmoil of war and the many ways that love is affected by war’s aftermath is a much written about subject and one I very much enjoy. In Motherland we find a love triangle involving two best friends – Ed, a troubled and impulsive Royal Marine commando and his more even-tempered best friend, liaison officer Larry – and Kitty, the woman they both come to love, who is stationed in Sussex working as an army driver when they both meet her in 1942. Following these three through the war and the many years to come after we see how the decisions made during the war will come to affect their lives immensely and how each will find that their life does not turn out as they had thought it would in those heady and exciting days of youth.
When Kitty first meets Ed she is instantly attracted to him. Used to men falling all over her with their declarations of love, Kitty is drawn to Ed’s confidence and charm and is intrigued by the deep sadness he tries to hide and his determination that he was meant to die young. Kitty soon only has eyes for Ed, which is a great sadness to Ed’s best friend, Larry, who falls deeply in love with the kind, beautiful and adventurous Kitty. Kitty and Ed have a whirlwind romance and then marry quickly before both men go off to fight in the ill-fated raid on Dieppe, France that will change their lives. When they both finally come home Larry must find a way to live a life of satisfaction without the one woman he loves and Ed must find a way to come to terms with the fact that he did not die as he had assumed and he is now a married man with a daughter born while he was away.
As could be expected of a married couple who barely know each other and have spent so much time apart, the years that follow aren’t easy. What Ed calls his darkness – that ever present sadness and feeling of being bad – is like a wall between the lovers, a wall that never fully comes down. Both struggle with their feelings of failure and dissatisfaction while their loyal friend Larry, who comes in and out of their life, continues to struggle with his actions during the war, what he should do with his life, the place God and love have in that life and how to love a woman other than Kitty. None of them seem to know how to change the unhappy path their lives have taken until Ed takes the matter into his own hands and with one shocking action changes everything.
With the vivid descriptions and the amount of time spent on ensuring the reader has a fully formed vision of the actions and emotions going on it is easy to see that the author is an award-winning screenwriter. Motherland perfectly captures what it would be like for these characters not only during the war but after and it was easy to sympathize with each main character as they struggled along unprepared for the life they were handed. The ending, while always in the back of my mind as a possibility, utterly shocked me when it occurred. It might seem strange for something I expected to still surprise me but it did, and it was beautifully written.
On the downside, the novel is written in the third person present tense, which can be distracting at times as it extends over a number of years. There were parts of the novel, such as Larry’s trip to India and his love affair with an artist’s muse, that didn’t serve any great purpose for me. Larry’s individual storyline and its concentration on art, duty and religion fell somewhat flat for me. The inclusion of a Prologue and Epilogue that take place in 2012 was also somewhat confusing for me as it didn’t seemed to have much to do with the main story other than to link it to the present.
All in all, Motherland was an enjoyable read and one I would recommend to historical fiction fans, especially those who enjoy novels that take place during and after WWII. It isn’t perfect but it does present some complex, well developed characters that will be hard to forget.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.