This book was perfectly lovely. Unlike other, recent books set during WWI (ahem, Daughters of Mars), it didn't attempt to be a sweeping epic; instead it focused on three women and their lives in the war's aftermath. Evelyn is embittered by the loss of her fiance and now spends her days working in the pensions office and handling claims from angry veterans, nineteen-year old Hettie lost her father to the Spanish flu and her brother is suffering from shell shock, but she is ready to enjoy life, and Ada's once-happy marriage is falling apart because of her inability to move on from her son's death and its mysterious circumstances. The women are all loosely connected and their stories play out against the larger frame of the armistice and the burial of the Unknown Warrior. Miniture snippets of others' perspectives (French and Irish soldiers, a little girl waiting with her father to view the procession) are interspersed as the coffin makes its way from France to England.
This is not a groundbreaking plot -- the stories were incredibly sad, but familiar to anyone who has read fiction set during the same time period. Still, that doesn't lessen the impact of how bleak and complicated their situations are. It did a lovely job of expressing the frustration these women felt - the war is over, but it has impacted every aspect of their lives. Many people are unable to move on, civilians from the loss of a husband, son, fiance, or friend, or because they themselves have served and are suffering from their horrible experiences. Hettie exemplifies the younger generation, keen to move on and frustrated that everyone else seems stuck in the past. Her frustration can come across as selfish -- she doesn't understand why she has to fork over half her wages while her brother, who suffers from shell shock, sits silently staring out the window -- but it is palpable. Her entire life is just beginning but she has no where to go and no way out. The war has ruined things for everyone.
My only issue is that everything is too neatly resolved for a book that raises such complicated issues, but still, it was nice to get a female perspective.