2016: 34. The Great Silence


"This is a book about silence, the silence that followed the “incessant thunder” of four years and four months of the First World War."

The Great Silence, Juliet Nicholson

So, if you have read this blog for any time at all, you will know that, along with “novels about Britain in the 1930s”, one of my number one interests in books about the Great War - particularly books (fiction or non) that deal with the after effects of the war on society.  All those young men, gone, or mangled (physically or emotionall) and all those young women, left behind, is a subject that will never fail to fascinate and devastate me.  Which is to say, I am the perfect reader for this book.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but believe that anyone would find this fascinating and moving.

It is a non-fiction account of Britain in the immediate post-war years (1918-1920).  Nicholson covers a number of topics - how demobilization happened, what happened to the wounded men who returned (oh, my Lord, the part about the tin face masks and birth of plastic surgery is fascinating), how the “surplus” women were left to deal, and, particularly, how the nation commemorated the loss - from the Cenotaph, to the Great Silence and beyond.  It’s unimaginably sad to contemplate how the whole society was under mourning, wracked by loss - how the world was upended by this trauma.  Nicolson does such a great job unpacking loss on the personal and societial level but still filling the book with interesting factual stories about what happened - this isn’t a book of philosophy, but a social history.  If you’re interested in the War, this is a must read, and if you just love well done history, I think you’d enjoy it, too.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017