If You Go Away, by Adele Parks, is a romance set in England during the First World War. Its protagonist, Vivian, is a society beauty whose sole ambition at the beginning of the tale is to marry a young, handsome and above all wealthy gentleman in order that she may live a life of comfort and ease. Due to a miscalculation on her part things do not go to plan.
When war breaks out her husband enlists immediately. Vivian is required to leave her family and friends, the glitz of the London which she loves, to take up residence in her husband’s country home in the north. Bored and lonely she befriends a local woman, Enid, whom her husband regards as below their station in life. Enid suggests to Vivian that she become involved in the day to day running of the land, doing tasks that are neglected as all the regular workers have left to fight for their country. The work gives Vivian a purpose and she grows to appreciate her new surroundings.
In parallel with Vivian’s story is that of Howard, Enid’s elder son. Before the war he was a playwright in London. He travels to France with a journalist friend and is traumatised by the brutality and pointlessness of what he sees. He risks his life by refusing to enlist.
As the plot develops the reader comes to appreciate how little autonomy women had at this time. Vivian recognises that she is property, first of her father and then her husband. If she goes against their will then she risks being thrown out, abandoned to poverty with no means of earning a living or even worse, being incarcerated as insane. She would not be allowed to care for her child.
Howard’s decisions make him contemptible in the eyes of society, the results of his actions rippling out to affect his mother. As a man though he retains more control over his destiny. His choices may risk his life but he retains the choice. Through his tale there are attempts to evoke the abject horror of the war and the mindlessness with which it had to be fought in order to survive.
The romance elements revolve around sex which is described in some detail. There are friendships, both genuine and self serving, amongst the women, but the lovers spend more time getting to know each other’s bodies than their characters.
I felt saddened by Vivian’s treatment of her husband. They were both products of their upbringing yet she did not offer him the courtesy of honesty as she did her lover, expecting him to understand her needs without being told. He earned the respect of his soldiers but not of his wife, mainly it seemed because of his failure to excite her in bed.
This is a nicely written romance with its fill of beautiful women and brave young men battling situations beyond their control in order to be together and find happiness. I do not wish to denigrate it in any way when I admit that it is simply not my sort of book.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.