Sunday 15 March 2020

Review by Gus Gresham of "Poppy Flowers at the Front" by Jon Wilkins

This is a poignant, compelling story of love and desolation amid the sterling work of ambulance women during the 1914-18 World War.

As any good reader or writer knows, it is the detail that convinces and transports us to the virtual landscape of a story. Like all great novels set in the First World War (All Quiet On The Western Front; A Farewell To Arms …), Jon Wilkins’s excellent novel, Poppy Flowers At The Front, airlifts us directly into the sights and smells and sounds and mud and blood and horror and senseless waste of the trenches.

We are in safe hands, though (we hope), with the engaging narrator Poppy Loveday, who guides us through her story as surely as her ambulance negotiates the muddy rutted tracks between the field hospital and the Front, with shells exploding around her. She is diligent in her selfless efforts, but is consumed daily by the suffering of "young boys in pain, a pain they did not deserve. Boys who screamed in terror, far from home and their mothers."

Yet, amid it all, there is light-hearted relief, humour and sensitivity, especially in the jaunts to Paris, rural France and rural England. And on a visit home, there is a beautifully understated exchange as Poppy’s father quizzes her about how hard life really is on the Western Front: "'Now tell me all about France, the truth mind…' So, I did and he was very quiet and very shocked."

The main counterpoint to the horrors of trench-warfare is embodied in a wonderfully handled and sensitive love story. The reader turns the pages in anticipation of something dreadful happening to the heroine or her lover at any time … and … (no spoilers!). Recommended.

About the reviewer
Gus Gresham is an avid reader and writer. He has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing and has worked variously as a mechanical engineer, construction worker, fruit picker, community activist for Greenpeace, writer, English tutor, audio-book producer, interpersonal and communication skills facilitator, and building surveyor. He’s had short stories published in literary magazines Brittle Star and Under The Radar, and his recently published novel, EARTHRISE, is available on Amazon. You can read a review of it here

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