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The Poppy Field by Deborah Carr

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

Publisher:                                  HarperImpulse

ISBN-10: 0008301018

ISBN-13: 978-0008301019

Date of Publication:               27th Dec 2018 (paperback)

         12th October 2018 (ebook)

Date of Review:                      16th October 2018


Young nurse, Gemma, is struggling with the traumas she has witnessed through her job in the NHS. Needing to escape from it all, Gemma agrees to help renovate a rundown farmhouse in Doullens, France, a town near the Somme. There, in a boarded-up cupboard, wrapped in old newspapers, is a tin that reveals the secret letters and heartache of Alice Le Breton, a young volunteer nurse who worked in a casualty clearing station near the front line.

Set in the present day and during the horrifying years of the war, both woman discover deep down the strength and courage to carry on in even the most difficult of times. Through Alice’s words and her unfailing love for her sweetheart at the front, Gemma learns to truly live again.

My Review

It’s been a while since I’ve read an historical novel, so with the centenary of Armistice Day approaching, The Poppy Field was a perfect choice.  With a dual timeline, the setting for this third-person narrative juxtaposes the tranquillity of a rural cottage in France 2018 with the same location 100 years ago, where the devastation and horrors of WW1 are only too evident.

In the present day, Gemma is a trauma nurse whose world is torn apart when her lover is rushed into the hospital where she works after a road accident. When he dies and Gemma discovers he wasn’t the man she thought he was, she takes a sabbatical refurbishing the run-down farmhouse that her father has inherited from his cousin. There she finds an old tin box containing two batches of love letters; the first batch between a young woman called Alice Le Breton and a Lieutenant Peter Conway, and the second between Alice and a Captain Edgar Woodhall.

Like Gemma, Alice is also a nurse, albeit under very different circumstances, and the first thing that struck me about Alice’s story was the level of historical research the author must have carried out. There are some epistolary style scenes, but the past element of this narrative is mostly told in a flashback style where I felt like I had been transported back in time to the make-shift hospital tents. The attention to detail with Alice’s story made me both shiver and gasp: I could almost smell the gangrene and taste the blood. As well as this, the realistic historical context makes you really appreciate just how different it must have been to have lived during that era. The way Alice, as a volunteer nurse, is answerable to the matron for her private life, almost like she was a prisoner rather than somebody who has given her free time to help others. This felt a very personal story and really brought Alice’s character to life.

As well symbolising the story’s setting, the book’s title is also a metaphorical emblem of hope and survival against all odds, and as Gemma unravels the mystery of the two sets of love letters, as well as Alice’s identity, parallels between the lives of the two women draw closer together.  Packed with both heartbreak and passion, this emotive narrative will leave you reaching for the tissues; but will Gemma’s heart finds a way to mend and flourish amongst the fields of poppies?

Not only is The Poppy Field a wonderful tribute to the heroes of WW1 but also to those who continue to serve and sacrifice themselves today.  The realistic characterisation, particularly from a historical perspective, makes this novel an ideal story for a screen adaption.

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Under Literature Love’s rating scheme

this book has been awarded 5 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down.

I recommend you stop what you’re doing and go and buy this book now!

Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an Advance Review Copy of this book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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