Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The WWI home front as seen in Elizabeth Jeffrey's Meadowlands

You might call this one "Downton Abbey lite."

The premise of Meadowlands will be familiar to followers of the WWI saga trend.  The aristocratic Bartrams see their world upended as their country plunges into war.  Life as they know it won't ever be the same again.  Etc.

Unlike their distant parents, Sir George Barsham MP and his wife, Lady Adelaide, the four Bartram children face up to reality and pitch in to do their part.  James goes into the army; Ned's a conscientious objector but eventually volunteers as a non-combatant so as not to be labeled a coward; Millie drives ambulances in France with the Voluntary Aid Detachment; and Georgina "Gina," the most prominent character of the bunch, establishes a soup kitchen for local women.  On the "downstairs" side, sort of, is Polly Catchpole, a young neighbor who works as a maid at Meadowlands.  She grew up alongside James and has always loved him but knows any future for them is futile.

The novel is most admirable in showing the plight of the women and children left impoverished and forgotten by the government while their families' breadwinners are fighting overseas.  Gina serves as their guide through the endless red tape and uses her contacts to help them fight for the separation allowances owed them, but that doesn't always help.

The broad-brush characters slot easily into their roles, and for readers who might miss the novel's themes, the dialogue gives regular reminders: "Yes, I fear all the old values are disappearing," for instance.  Lady Adelaide, in particular, is a piece of work in her absolute cluelessness: "Must the conversation always be either the war or politics when you're at home?" she whines to her husband, who avoids her by staying in London.  It almost comes as a relief to see even her children poking fun at her ridiculous behavior by the end.

It's a non-taxing portrayal of the WWI home front, but not as distinctive as it could be; for example, don't expect much local color.  Meadowlands is a stand-in for a typical English estate, and it's unclear which county or even part of England it's in.

Meadowlands was published by Severn House this month (hb, $29.95, 224pp).  Thanks to the publisher for the NetGalley download.


  1. Uhm... sounds like this one is not really a must, or am I mistaken?

    But I'm quite fascinated with the new wave of WWI and WWII novels... in different renditions. I'm a dieselpunk reader and writer and the two WW are very popular in this genre as well. Which doesn't really surprise me. These are staples of our history. I think that much of what we are today comes from these two expereinces.

    1. It was an easy and straightforward read, but there are better novels out there in the WWI saga mold.

      What are some dieselpunk novels that you'd recommend? I'm fairly new to that field.