After the War is Over is Robson’s follow-up to the excellent Somewhere in France. To be clear, it isn’t essential that you read Somewhere in France before this one; however, I do think readers who have read the previous book will get a better appreciation of After the War is Over.
After the War is Over is set in England after the first world war (obviously). During the war, Charlotte Brown served as a nurse, something that she was able to do as a university educated young woman. Now that the war is over Charlotte is more than content returning to her old job in Liverpool, helping those that have suffered from the war.
As Charlotte gains satisfaction in her new life, she’s pulled back into the past by her best friend Lily (subject of Somewhere in France), who’s brother has come back from the war a changed man.
Edward Neville-Ashford, Earl of Cumberland, has returned home wounded both in body and spirit. He’s lost a leg and it’s clear that he’s not the same, care-free young man he once was. Each time Charlotte encounters him she tries to talk to him, help him, but to no avail. Needing to move on from her girlhood infatuation, Charlotte distances herself from the Neville-Ashford family. Unfortunately for the contentment that Charlotte has found, she is pulled once again into this family’s circle when Lilly asks for help with her brother. While Charlotte wants to help, she is more than aware that it is going to interfere with the success that she has found.
After the War is Over was an excellent read, although I will admit that it was a little different from what I was expecting. I thought there would be a stronger romance element, but what the novel provides is a very good sense of the turbulent atmosphere in the post-war era, especially for women.
I found it compelling that Robson decided to focus on women in the post-war era. So many war novels focused on how men came home broken after the war. Yes, this was part of After the War Was Over, but ultimately this book was about women during this period. In many ways Charlotte was restricted by her gender and you sense this in every aspect of her life, especially in her interactions with her friends at the boarding house where she resides.
Readers are treated to a lot of day-to-day activities of these woman, and perhaps these descriptions could be labeled dull. However, I really felt that this book offered a realistic and less romanticized version of women in during this period. The role of women during the war is often discussed in the classroom, but there are few popular titles where it has been so predominately explored, and I appreciate that fact in this book. For example, near the beginning of the novel Charlotte learns that she has received the right to vote, not the vote as we know it today, a by-election for Oxford University, but the satisfaction that Charlotte feels for jumping through all the hoops to actually cast her vote is palpable. It was these little details that made After the War is Over such a powerful read for me.
The area that didn’t fall into place as expected was the romance aspect of the novel. It was quite clear from the book jacket that there was something going on between Charlotte and Edward; however, it really didn’t play as strong a role as I would have expected it to. Really, it wasn’t until closer to the end that readers saw Charlotte and Edward interact with each other. The bulk of their interactions were related in flashbacks when Charlotte was employed by Edward as Lily’s governess. Personally, I felt that there was a lot of material that could have been used to a stronger advantage in the romance department. I really would have liked the romance to have taken a more central role to the plot, but then again, I am a romance reader, so take that with a grain of salt.
After the War is Over is a compelling and interesting novel. It tackles a period that receives a lot of attention, and it does it in a way that I think will resonate with female readers. There’s no battle scenes, but readers are taken to the front lines of women’s fight for independence and their daily lives. I loved the powerful simplicity of After the War is Over and I think that anyone who enjoyed Somewhere in France will also love this one as will readers who enjoy character-driven historical fiction. Another highly recommended read.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
For readers who enjoyed the focus on women in post-WWI, it is absolutely essential that Anna Hope’s Wake is a follow-up read. Wake is beautifully written and focuses on the lives of three women, all who have been affected by the war. It’s much more melancholic in tone, but I think it’s an appropriate read if you enjoyed the history of After the War is Over.
For those that enjoyed the more romantic elements of After the War is Over, a great follow-up is Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare. This is another book that focuses on the post-war era and provides readers with a snapshot of this period, but the romance plays a much stronger role. Oh, and there are ghosts.
Lastly, another good read for history buffs is Tanis Rideout’s Above All Things. This is another book that focuses on the post-war era, but what it does is capture the attitude of the age. The desire to move on from the horrors of the war to an age of exploration. I think it will appeal to readers because of the narrative of George Mallory’s wife, Ruth, who is left at home while her husband attempts to ascend Mt. Everest. It’s tragic but beautifully written.