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Highlights in the Charts

In Memoriam by Alice Winn

Reviewed by Jenna Tomlinson


Alice Winn's debut In Memoriam is taking the literary world by storm. Charting the relationship between two public school friends  Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood as they navigate life, relationships and societal expectations. The novel begins against the backdrop of WW1. The “In Memoriam” section of their school newspaper keeps the boys updated with news from the front, with increasingly frequent details of lives lost. But too soon, the war becomes more than just a backdrop and they go from playing soldiers to fighting for King and Country.


Being from a German family, Gaunt soon enlists to fight in the trenches for England (against his largely peaceful nature) to ensure his family are seen as patriotic, leaving Ellwood and his friends behind. Gaunt and Ellwood aren't just school friends though: each is desperately in love with the other but neither has the confidence to tell their companion. At a time when homosexuality was criminalised, Gaunt and Ellwood are fighting not only a physical battle in the trenches but an emotional one within themselves.


The novel delivers gut-wrenching scenes of the trenches, as more of their Preshute alumni enlist to face the unbridled horrors of the trenches and prisoners of war camps. Can Gaunt and Ellwood not only survive the war but manage the scars it will leave behind if they do? And if they do survive, can they find a way to exist in each other's lives that is acceptable to both each other and society?


I found Gaunt and Ellwood's relationship incredibly touching, but even more touching are the relationships forged within the arena of war. Class divides are still prominent, but the boys develop a sense of comradery with their fellow soldiers from all backgrounds. The boys also rekindle relationships with people from their past and it's intriguing to see how these characters have formed the personalities of both Gaunt and Ellwood. It's hard to believe at times that the two of them are only in their late teens, something I suspect was true of many men of the era.


Winn's real skill, however, is in her description of the conditions and terrors of the trenches. The experiences; from gas warfare to the cold emptiness of No Man's Land and the horrifying “strategies” of the Battle of the Somme; are described in an emotional way. My great-great grandfather died fighting in the trenches and reading Winn's descriptions brought tears to my eyes. The sensitivity shown by the Captains in their dug outs as they write letters of condolence home to the families whose sons, brothers and husbands died in the trenches brought a human element to the novel and showed the sentiments of the era.


With, In Memoriam, Winn has created historical fiction at its best. Poignant and heart-wrenching but with characters that make you hold out for a happy ending. It's easy to see how quickly it is climbing the charts, securing an abundance of media coverage. The Great War may have ended in 1918, but the scars it left behind not only on the people, but on the surviving generations and the landscapes it touched are still visible. Winn brings them right to the surface and asks us to confront them and our prejudices.


Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salhi

Reviewed by Marisha Puk


Salhi’s novel, Season of Migration to the North, will make you view the world differently, turning your views upside down through the main character Mustafa Sa’eed.


Mustafa is from Sudan and is a genius. His intelligence drives him from his home to England where he studies but it’s not his studies which drive the plot forward. Instead, we learn of Mustafa’s incriminating behaviour whilst he is in Europe and what leads him back to a small village in Sudan. Through the nameless narrator, we learn all about Mustafa’s backstory and get to meet characters from the village.


Season of Migration to the North is Tayeb Salhi’s most famous novel; it has been translated into over twenty languages and it was originally written in Arabic. The novel’s main focus is on the effects of British colonialism, especially regarding Sudan. Salhi was born in Sudan and came to England himself to study.


Though this book had a rocky start; being banned in a couple of countries for its content, it is now studied widely and well respected.


I would recommend anyone read this novel if they are looking for a touching yet heartbreaking story involving death, mystery and marriage. Other reviewers have noted the novel construction and how captivating it is. Penguin Modern Classics have published the book, so it’s clear it is highly regarded and worth the purchase. Harper's Magazine said Salih packed an entire library into this slim masterpiece” and I would completely agree.



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