Exeter, Devon UK • Feb 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Arts & Lit Waterstones’ Novel of the Year 2023: In Memoriam

Waterstones’ Novel of the Year 2023: In Memoriam

Helena Hughes delves into Alice Winn's award winning novel about two men who fall in love during World War One.
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Image: Imperial War Museums, via PICRYL

Alice Winn’s debut novel In Memoriam is an absolutely sensational novel that not only is beautifully written but also is totally gripping and yet poignant throughout. Winn expertly navigates the almost impossible balance between a historical fiction in a landscape of war and death and a touching love story between two young men to create an elegant work that is sure to not just be a Penguin book, but a Penguin Classic in years to come.

A historical fiction that captures the essence of the WW1 period, In Memoriam is both a heartwarming romance and a painfully vivid reconstruction of youth in 1914. At 17, the protagonists Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood are both too young to enlist and studying at an elite boarding school.

As a reader you are held in constant suspense and are desperate for either Ellwood or Gaunt to confess their feelings

There is an unspoken and yet innocent tension between the two, both of whom appear to be concealing romantic feelings. Gaunt, who is half-German enlists early in order to protect his family and mother from anti-German attacks, disrupting the natural course of the romance and propelling the novel from an innocent romance between two young men into the war-torn realities of the period.

Ellwood, following Gaunt into battle following Machiavellian ideas of Greek heroism and romantic poetry, is faced with the brutal landscape of the front lines and the horrors of being a young man at war. Gaunt and Ellwood are drawn apart and together repeatedly throughout creating a sensation of rigor mortice hopelessness.

Passing from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger, as a reader you are held in constant suspense and are desperate for either Ellwood or Gaunt to confess their feelings as their destinies look increasingly bleak. Surrounded by death and suffering the moments between Gaunt and Ellwood are small pockets of humanity and Winn captures war-torn youth immaculately.

Utterly deserving of Waterstones’ Novel of the Year 2023

In Memoriam depicts a queer love story in a period where homosexuality was still condemned and confined to a “love that dare not speak its name.” By providing a queer space in the 1910s, Winn creates an incredible opportunity for the reader to be enveloped by a hidden history that would have been illegal to record in Britain at the time. Her work not only draws us into a queer past but sets it within an extremely well crafted and accurate historical backdrop, which only seeks to create greater immersion within the novel and speaks to how the queer voice is impossible to silence completely.

Winn has created an utterly stunning piece of fiction that is both totally immersive while creating space for minority with conviction and painstaking care that is very difficult to find in any fiction, let alone one set in British war-time.

In my view, In Memoriam is utterly deserving of Waterstones’ Novel of the Year 2023 – I would urge anyone who has get to pick it up, to do so because I very much doubt they will be able to put it down.

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