Book Review: The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow

Happy publication day to Liz Trenow for The Poppy Factory. Read my thoughts below…BBC 2014

The Poppy FactoryWhat’s it about?

With the end of the First World War, Rose is looking forward to welcoming home her beloved husband ,Alfie, from the battlefields. But his return is not what Rose had expected. Traumatised by what he has seen, the Alfie who comes home is a different man to the one Rose married. As he struggles to cope with life in peacetime, Rose wrestles with temptation as the man she fell in love with seems lost forever.

Many years later, Jess returns from her final tour of Afghanistan. Haunted by nightmares from her time at the front, her longed-for homecoming is a disaster and she wonders if her life will ever be the same again. Can comfort come through her great-grandmother Rose’s diaries?

For Jess and Rose, the realities of war have terrible consequences. Can the Poppy Factory, set up to help injured soldiers, rescue them both from the heartache of war?

My thoughts

This is the first Liz Trenow book that I’ve read and have to admit I was enticed by the striking cover. It’s quite a poignant read being the 100 year anniversary of the start of WW1 this year and reflects the aftermath and effects of war on returning soldiers and their families.

I felt it had a slow start with Jess’s story, her as a returning medic/soldier from a tour of Afghanistan and the problems she encounters as she tries to re-integrate herself into normal civvy life. Something she just can’t adapt to and turns to alcohol to help her cope. I don’t know why but I found it really difficult to engage with Jess’s character; as a person I felt her to be a bit flat and therefore preferred Rose’s story much more.

I enjoyed reading about Rose’s storyline through the diaries, from the end of WW1 and the first Armistice Day her diary gives us the other side of the coin, so to speak. We go through all her emotions when she hears that her soldier husband is returning from war and how they both cope upon his return with his disability. Rose comes across a very modern patient woman, very much ahead of her time and as much as I felt sorry for Alfie and appreciated it was all part of the shellshock I couldn’t get past his obstinance and stubborness which threatened their marriage.

I found Rose’s diary language although ‘of the time’ but also very eloquent; the use of igominy for example, I had no idea what this meant and had to look it up. I’m not quite sure this would have been the word of choice for a lower class working woman of that time. However, the historical parts of the novel do come across as very accurate and sincere.

Both Alfie and Jess are suffering the same demons, the alcoholism, the anger and the nightmares. I thought that the storyline of shellshock / PTSD was a bit predictable but nonetheless still one worth highlighting. I just wish I’d been able to enagage more with the characters.

I liked this book, but didn’t love it but support the cause of poppies and I almost feel a little guilty that I didn’t like it a bit more.

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