The narrative has a three-part structure, with two sections flowing effortlessly into one another as Iris Crane’s mind drifts from present to past in old age. In 1914, having failed to stop her 15-year-old brother Tom from enlisting, Iris leaves Australia for Europe to bring him home to their worried father. She gets distracted from her mission after discovering her nurse’s skills are needed at Royaumont, a run-down Cistercian abbey north of Paris that’s being established as a field hospital. Working alongside its industrious chief physician Frances Ivens and hard-edged ambulance driver Violet Heron, Iris finds her calling. For her and its wounded soldiers, the capable medical sisterhood there makes Royaumont a secluded haven in the midst of horror.
Much later, in 1970s Brisbane, an invitation to a reunion reminds Iris of the leaden sense of guilt she’s carried since the war, the full reasons for which are carefully, if somewhat predictably, revealed. In a separate thread, Iris’ granddaughter Grace, an obstetrician in a nearly all-male field, struggles to reconcile her ambitions with her perfectionism and her family’s needs. Although I’m not normally drawn to modern medical dramas, I found Grace’s story gripping. The Royaumont segments are more leisurely paced, but they are immersive nonetheless. Just like Iris, I found myself drawn in and reluctant to leave.
In Falling Snow was published last August by Penguin ($16.00, trade paperback, 454pp). It's also out in the UK (by Allison & Busby), Canada (Penguin Canada), and Australia (Allen & Unwin), the author's home country. This review also appears in February's Historical Novels Review. I'm home on a snow day – the university is closed – so this was a natural choice to pick for today's review.