WWI is well-trodden territory, narratively speaking, and I didn’t feel like this story really brought anything new or fresh to the table.
To start, where In Memoriam shines is in its depiction of the relationship between Ellwood and Gaunt. They are the most developed characters by far, and I found their dynamic to be so moving and tender. You really feel the intimacy and love between these two, the affection that has grown and bloomed between them over the many years that they’ve known each other. And crucially, just as much as you get the love and the intimacy, you also get the friction and the conflict; the ways they sometimes lash out and misunderstand and hurt each other.
Sadly, beyond the romance between Ellwood and Gaunt, I found that I was not that interested in or compelled by anything in this novel. With the exception of maybe one character (Hayes), all the characters in In Memoriam feel interchangeable because they simply don’t get enough time on the page for them to be distinct or memorable. The fact that they’re on the front means that, more often than not, they’re killed off before they get developed in any kind of capacity. (And maybe that’s the point–that our knowledge of them gets cut short, just as their lives do–but it also doesn’t make for very engaging reading when every character you meet is killed off like a couple of chapters later.) Also, and this is very much a personal preference, I just don’t find narratives about the world wars to be that interesting to read about. In Memoriam is certainly not the first WWI story, nor will it be the last. What I was hoping, then, is that it would somehow set itself apart from the plethora of WWI stories that are out there–and I just don’t think that it did. That’s fine, not every story needs to break the mold, but I also found that in the case of In Memoriam, the execution of the familiar beats of the WWI story was not that impressive either. The novel starts strong and ends nicely, but the middle chunk dragged in a major way, and it felt like the author couldn’t figure out how to connect the beginning and the ending together.
In short: it was fine. I would definitely be interested in reading more from Alice Winn, though, especially if she writes any contemporary stories in the future. I do like her writing, especially her dialogue, so I’d want to see if she’d write something I’d enjoy more if she didn’t have to work within the constraints of a historical narrative as she did with In Memoriam.
Thanks to Knopf for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!