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In Memoriam by Alice Winn - Review

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Continuing with my theme of LGBTQ+ books for the month of June, I picked up this book as I have heard so many good things about it and really wanted to read it. I bought it earlier in the year with a gift voucher from Waterstones. It was ideal for June. It's hard going but ultimately a brilliant book and I can't recommend it enough. 

So, the book starts in 1914. Ellwood and Gaunt are in the sixth form at Preshute, a prestigious public school in Wiltshire. They are terribly in love with each other, but quite unable to say this to each other. They have plenty of friends around them. Ellwood is extremely charming and everyone loves him. Gaunt fights other boys and a lot of them find him prickly, but he is popular. And because this is a boys' school, there's a lot of sexual contact between older boys and younger ones, which both Gaunt and Elllwood have engaged in. But war has broken out and the school newspaper is full of the deaths of old boys, young men only, and it's all that anyone can talk about. Ellwood is a poet and has a quotation for every juncture. Gaunt is obsessed with the Classics.

Ellwood's mother is Jewish which makes people somewhat suspicious of him. He's an only child and he's determined that he is going to marry Gaunt's sister, Maud. This is clearly just because he adores Gaunt and thinks she is the next best thing. It's very Brideshead Revisited of them. Gaunt's mother is German and he speaks fluent German, and he and Ellwood spent a summer in Munich before the war. But obviously now anti-German sentiment is growing, and Gaunt's mother asks him to sign up for the army so that they don't get any more abuse. Gaunt is just eighteen and at this point the age to sign up was nineteen, but he's allowed to anyway. He signs up just before Christmas 2014. 

He is sent to the front in France as an officer in 2015. He writes letters to Ellwood (who he often calls Elly but never calls him by his first name, Sidney) and to an older boy he used to have a thing with, Sandys. I hadn't really before ever taken into account the class differences in World War One and the differences between the 'men' and the officers, who are all barely eighteen and have been at public schools. There is another officer, Hayes, who isn't upper class, and the differences are drawn really well and I loved this part of the story. 

And of course the war. Trench warfare. It's really harrowing - there's just death after death after death. Ellwood and Gaunt (because of course Ellwood signs up too) are first together and then separated. Gaunt is presumed dead, but I don't want to say too much about what happens to him. Ellwood is haunted by his ghost. Ellwood definitely has shell shock and Gaunt has terrible nightmares. Every soldier is just horrendously harmed physically or mentally or both. Probably both. I am glad I read this, but I won't say it's easy going.

The love story though makes it worth it. I don't want to say too much but I just loved it throughout. They are both ridiculous humans and I desperately wanted them to be together. I loved the ending. I'm giving this five out of five and I am making my friend Cinders read this because I want her to have her heart ripped in two as well. 

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