1. Have I heard of the author? Who is she and what is her life story?
Surprise! This book was written by a man! Non-surprisingly, it is someone that I don't know.
Jonathan Smith was born in 1942 and is still alive. From what I could find, he's most famous for all his writing and radio plays. An interesting fun fact from the afterword of the book is that the story of Eileen and Wilfred really happened and was brought to Jonathan by a student of his. He based his story on real life letters and information from family members.
2. What did this book teach me? (This could be about the time period, womanhood, daily struggles,...)
This book taught me that war is hard. Really hard. Most movies I see focus on the toll World War I took on soldiers and most books that I've read focused on the toll the war took on the women. However Jonathan Smith combines these two elements to make it all the more clear why the war was so difficult and how everyone involved suffers.
It also taught me a lot about medicine, something I didn't expect. Before the war, Wilfried is a doctor in training and there are a lot of scenes in which he is in a hospital in the 1910s. Even though I was always aware of how different hospitals were in that era, it was really enlightening to read about and see how, for example, one doctor firmly believes in never wearing gloves. And he is one of the best in the hospital.
3. Is there a more famous book I could compare this book to?
This question is hard, but I think useful for future readers out there. I'm currently reading H.E. Bates Fair Stood the Wind For France and I must say it reminds me of Wilfred and Eileen. But then again, it's so different in that Bates starts in the middle of war and Jonathan Smith lets us see the characters before the war and really contrasts how much their lives change.
So if anyone has read the book and has better suggestion as to what book it resembles, please let me know in the comments!
I will say this: if you love season 2 of Mr. Selfridge, you'll love this book too. It's the same time period and shows the same devastation caused by war.
4. Why does this book matter?
This book is so important in that it tackles the influence of war in a very modern way. This book is not hard to read at all, it's easy and intriguing and once you start, the writing just sweeps you away. From my experience, a lot of young people consider the war, especially the first world war, boring and dated. I know that I always felt like I had nothing in common with "those people" anymore. However, books like these show us that we have everything in common with people from that era. They loved just like us, they cried just like us and they searched for happiness just like us. If more young people read Wilfred and Eileen, the war would become more alive again and there would be more motivation to prevent it from ever happening again. Wilfred and Eileen are just like any boy and girl in London these days and their heartache hits remarkably close to home.
5. Are there men in the book and what is their role?
As the title suggest, yes there are men. The story alternates between Wilfred and Eileen, but especially in the beginning, Wilfred is the most important character and we really see the world through his point of view. We experience his years at Cambridge, his medical residency and then the letters he writers to Eileen while he's in the war. I personally related most to Wilfred, though there's plenty of Eileen in the story to relate to.
I absolutely loved this book. When I picked it up, I wondered why it was a Persephone book; it's not written by a woman nor is the narrator always a woman. However, after finishing it, I have no doubt why it belongs firmly in the Persephone catalogue; this book shows the daily life and struggles of families left behind in the war. We see what Eileen does when she's left alone in England with her husband fighting in the war. We see her remarkable strength when stuff goes wrong and she has to step in to help everyone. She's strong, powerful and yet completely relatable and realistic. I've never read a book about the war that felt so real and educational, yet was at the same time such an absolute joy to read. I'll pick this book up any day.