On the whole, the Clapton Library Book Group thought that this book was a good read, the first seventy pages being seen as "fascinating". Characters were usually well rounded and believable. For one member, the author managed to write one of the most evil mothers in literature in Mrs Orris. Mrs Orris's beautiful but role-less daughter, Julia, was another character that was considered very well written. Julia, in lesser hands, could have been a contemptible character: a failure of a mother concerned only with maintaining and improving her looks. Louisa Young allows the reader to understand Julia and to see that she was trapped; almost as trapped, in her own way, as the men in the trenches. Julia's obsession with her looks acts as a precursor of Riley's and her own fate. The early relationship between Julia and Peter (neither of whom the main characters of the novel) was, for another member of the group, beautiful and erotic.
The author skilfully uses her secondary characters to question and explore major issues: Rose's questioning of the existence of a god that allowed the horrors of war, the sympathetic treatment of homosexuality through the character of Terence and, of course, the role of women through Julia and Rose. In contrast it was Nadine and Riley, the main characters of the book, who received the greatest criticism from us. Riley's behaviour toward Nadine irritated us and their relationship, the backbone of the novel, seemed less understandable/believable than that between Julia and Peter.
On a structural level there were criticisms about the abundance of over long sentences partitioned by commas, which some members of the group found to be an irritation. The denouement of the novel was also likened to a Whitehall farce. The coming together of the disparate characters was seen as clumsy and too much of a coincidence to be believable. However, the main criticism of the book was that the author had not done sufficient research: Riley would not have been in the trenches in November 1914. The group of men that the main character was meant to be a member of did not, in fact, get to the Front until July 1916.
The overall verdict on the book: a good read, but no "Birdsong" or Pat Barker.