I’m a historian, and as such, I’m generally leery of reading historical fiction set in the time period I studied – World War One. Small inaccuracies can drive me crazy. Especially ones that I consider to be lazy – when the author didn’t do his or her research and messed up dates or places. Or when they have a character write a letter from France and their loved one in England gets it within days. That rarely happens now, it sure as heck didn’t happen with a war going on and mail being censored. When I saw the cover of Somewhere in France, I was intrigued. I have friends who really enjoyed the book and I wanted to love it but I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the high expectations I have for World War One historical fiction. I needn’t have worried. Jennifer Robson has set the new bar for the genre. From the first page I was captivated and unable to put the book down until I had finished. (Total time elapsed – 2.3 hours.) I then went out the next morning and bought the sequel, After The War Is Over, and proceeded to devour it. Then I re-read Somewhere in France. Re-reading a book isn’t all that uncommon for me, but re-reading a book less than a week after I first read the book? Now *that* was a first.
I made an instant connection with the character of Lilly Ashford. I loved her spunk, and her unwillingness to do what others (mostly her parents) wanted her to do with her life and instead follow her heart. I adored the fact that the life she was running away from is the life many of us think we would want – that of an upper class gentlewoman. I may have connected first with Lilly, but every single character in the book was well written. I felt connected to all of them. Edward, Robbie, Charlotte – each character stole a piece of my heart, I wanted to know everything about them. I wanted them to be real.
For a historian, the best part about Somewhere In France is the rich detail that is woven into the narrative. The characters were figments of the imagination but the setting was real. There really was a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and the jobs described in the book such as ambulance driver (Lilly’s chosen vocation), catering (I love the positive spin the Brits put on “mess hall duty”), clerical, and motor transport were actual jobs filled by women during the war in an effort to free up men for front line service.
The plot moved along at just the right pace, and the side plot with Edward (Lilly’s Brother), kept me on the edge of my seat until the last page. The ending was perfect, and left me wanting more, which is why I went out and picked up the sequel After The War Is Over. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a great piece of fiction that is steeped in the truth. The book doesn’t sugar coat the war, or leave out the tough parts in favour of a love story – it blends the two together perfectly.
The mini essay “Women Ambulance Drivers in the Great War” which appeared at the end of my copy of the novel went a long way to explaining why I adored the book. Jennifer Robson wasn’t content in finding a single source to prove that there were female drivers in clearing hospitals near the front lines, she dug and dug until she unearthed multiple sources. Truly an author after my own heart.
My recommendation for Somewhere in France is this: go out and get this book immediately. Read it, and prepare to have your heart stolen.