4 / 5 Stars
Poignant and unexpected - obviously a lot of research has gone into this.
The first thing to note about this book is that it's obvious the author has done considerable research into the First World War, which gives it a real sense of authenticity. It's a bittersweet story that details family life in Liverpool during the war, but also examines the pointlessness of it all.
George and Joe are brothers living in Liverpool, though they couldn't be more different. George is keen to go and fight when war breaks out, whereas Joe protests at the loss of life, and refuses to sign up.
From then on, their lives go in very different directions. George, though technically underage, fights in the war and experiences atrocities. Joe continues to work at the newspaper, until things take a turn for the darker.
One brother survives the war, the other doesn't. I won't spoil the end for you, but it wasn't one that I saw coming, which made it especially poignant.
The stand-out thing about this book was definitely the attention to detail. It's clear that this book has been a labour of love for the author, and he manages to capture a real sense of what it must have been like. This is especially the case with the scenes in the trenches - the horror and panic of those moments is powerfully brought to life, even down to the smallest elements, such as the lice in the uniforms and the squabbling between the soldiers themselves.
Likewise, Liverpool is lovingly depicted and you get a real sense of the community there, and the way of life for all the residents. I really enjoyed this aspect of it.
I have to say, I personally enjoyed George's story more than Joe's. George I felt had more motivation to make the decisions that he did, whereas I found myself questioning Joe's motives a little more. I understood his desire not to take human life, but it didn't seem to be founded on much logic or personal life experience - what made him protest the war so passionately? Given how he sticks so firmly to his guns right through to the end of the book, I wanted to understand more about what drove him to adopt this stance.
Also, I felt the females in the book were a bit 'shadowy', apart from Anne at the newspaper. The sisters didn't feel fully formed, and the mother felt a bit like the stereotyped little woman at home, whereas the father (with his fierce temper and strong opinions) felt very much more rounded. I'd have liked to hear more of their voice in this book, but I do accept it was focusing mainly on the two brothers.
Overall though, a really good read, and an intriguing insight into what life must have been like at that time. If you like historical books, you'll definitely enjoy this.