The Moon Field
Title: The Moon Field
Author: Judith Allnatt
Setting: Cumbria, England
Hardback, 400 pages
The Moon Field by Judith Allnatt is an evocative, compelling story and was chosen to be our very first selected book because we absolutely loved reading it.
Set in Cumberland (now Cumbria) around the time of the First World War, the novel centres on George Farrell, an young working-class postman from Keswick, a town in the beautiful Lake District. See here for our place review of Keswick.
George is fond of Miss Violet Walter who lives in the Manor House among the fells. Although she is of a higher social class to him in a time when class mattered to society, George envisages building a relationship between them that is deeper than the mere acquaintanceship they have developed during the time he has delivered her post. Thinking he can win her heart, he steels himself to give her one of the watercolour paintings that he has made. However, his resolve – but not his ardour - vanishes when he discovers she has a beau already.
With feelings of dismay and rejection, George takes off. Suddenly, he finds himself in a compromised position: he gets drunk, is swindled out of his money, and ends up enlisting into the Army.
The story takes George away to France to fight, but his connection to Violet remains through her fiancé Edmund who is his commanding officer.
Told in three parts, The Moon Field travels from England to France, and back again.
As would be expected, the novel concentrates on the First World War. The brutality common to war, and especially this particular war, is depicted with absolute clarity. Allnatt demonstrates great ability in relating the battlefield horrors: the sights that each soldier experienced, the repugnant, pervasive smells of the trenches, the tumultuous sounds from machinery and man. You find yourself transported to another time and place, frequently pausing to catch your breath as you read. Allnatt has clearly researched this subject and it has paid dividends: you are there, alongside George.
The pointlessness and sheer madness of war is conveyed exceptionally well:
'Rowe replied: "If we push forward in France there’s bound to be wastage; recruits will be needed and plenty of ‘em." Wastage. The word hung in George’s mind like an inevitable expenditure that has to be budgeted for in advance or some factory off-cut that’s a necessary part of an industrial process. Not [name] slumped over the parapet or [name’s] slim form stumbling, falling,' p333-4. (Name’s removed to prevent spoilers.)
There is also the theme of the heart-breaking and heart-warming qualities of love. Allnatt writes with no hint of sentimentality. This is not a gushing love story, but a an honest look at the difficulties and the experiences of those in love.
World War One has been written about extensively. So much so, that standard comments and assertions are made about the war and about the thoughts and feelings of the general Tommy. Admittedly, it must be difficult to write in an original way about how young boys were keen to join up and fight for King and Country and how they all thought it would be 'over by Christmas'. But this entire novel is an example of writing that does not descend into cliché, and instead strives for originality and resonance. For instance:
'George imagined the three of them in khaki, swinging their arms as they marched together and suddenly felt awkward sitting there in his postman’s uniform. The role he’d been so proud of was safe, civilian. He felt reduced to a mere message-taker, little better than an errand-boy, while others would be part of something huge, a glorious endeavour, taking their places as men,' p32.
'The great weight of his decision to enlist hung between them as if they were carrying a heavy trunk with each of them waiting for the other to suggest they lay it down and unpack it,' p103
It is clear that the author shares a deep abhorrence for the war and does not flinch in exposing its horrors. She includes passages that could make you cry:
'The thoughts kept coming: countless men pouring into the battle line, disappearing into it like grains of sand falling into a crevasse. Lives spent carelessly as loose change on a war that was unwinnable. He put his hands up to his ears and held his head very still,' p274.
'The photographs that stood on the grand piano were now a series recording a frozen youth: boy, student, soldier…a stopped clock' * p330.
Or despair for the lack of understanding then and now:
'His belief was that life was difficult enough with all the illness and injury that comes uninvited, without man taking up arms against each other,' p101.
Throughout, Allnatt handles the subject with deep sympathy and sensitivity.
But whether describing the atrocities of war or turning to the more mundane, Allnatt is able to do magic: she can conjure pure, detailed, accurate movements, mannerisms and moments. She is also able to enhance the slightest detail to make the words sing. Her writing is delightful.
'Here, both men and women were working at sewing machines, treadles clattering as they sewed. Rolls of cloth stood on end, some neatly in line, some leaning at angles against the wall like a parade of tipsy soldiers,' p78.
Overall, we found The Moon Field to be a thought-provoking, well-researched and extremely well-written novel. One of our all-time favourites.
No violent scenes as such, but, of course, war is the ultimate enactment of violence and there are scenes that are shocking.
One, very mild
*The ‘stopped clock’ and remembrance colours are honoured in our bookmark within the box.
Review written by Denise Flowers.
Other books by the same author:
The Poet's Wife
Blurb from the book:
It is 1841. Patty is married to John Clare: peasant poet, genius and madman.
Travelling home one day, Patty finds her husband sitting, footsore, at the side of the road, having absconded from a lunatic asylum over eighty miles away. She is devastated to discover that he has not returned home to find her, but to search for his childhood sweetheart, Mary Joyce, to whom he believes he is married.
Patty loves John deeply, but he seems lost to her. Plagued by jealousy, she seek strength in memories: their whirlwind courtship, the poems John wrote for her, their shared affinity for the land. But as John descends further into delusion, hope seems to be fading. Will she ever be able to conquer her own anger and hurt, and reconcile with this man she now barely knows?
We have reviewed this book here.
The Silk factory
Blurb from the book:
Anyone who‘s ever lost someone is haunted.
Rosie Milford inherits a house in an old silk factory after her mother‘s death and moves there with her young children. The discovery of a shocking truth about her own childhood, when she is already reeling from the breakup of her marriage, fills her with distrust and fearfulness. Then she starts seeing a strange child, wandering in the garden, who seems as lost as she is.
In 1812, silk master Septimus Fowler has grand plans to keep his factory in step with the industrial revolution: he will plant mulberry trees, rear silkworms and import new mechanized looms. Orphan Beulah Fiddement works as a bobbin winder and has secrets that the master would go to any lengths to know. Caught up in a dark world of illicit love, rebellion and revenge, Beulah must put away her childhood and draw on all her spirit to protect those she loves.
Beulah‘s story of guilt and bravery will echo down two centuries and change Rosie‘s life as she struggles to overcome the hand of her own past and find redemption.
A Mile of River
Blurb from the book:
Farmer’s daughter Jess has a father who demands absolute loyalty and obedience. She must never mention the name of her mother, Sylvie, who left the family eight years ago. She must be mother to her younger brother, cook, house keeper and farm labourer all rolled into one.
Jess finds her mother’s bird book, and alongside the entries about kingfishers and fieldfares she re-discovers memories and starts to unravel secrets. She begins to question her father’s version of the past and kick against his version of her future. Against the background of a scorching summer that is drying up the river, the very lifeblood of the farm, Jess struggles to decide who she is, her mother’s or her father’s daughter.
About the author of this book
Judith Allnatt was born in the Midlands, and grew up on a farm in Staffordshire. She found she had a love of books and of writing early in her childhood. After studying at university, Judith had a management career and then taught English literature and creative writing. Her first novel, A Mile of River, was a Radio 5 Live Book of the Month and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize for Literature.The Poet’s Wife was shortlisted for the East Midlands Book Award and our review for that book is here. She now lives in rural Northamptonshire.
There is no affiliation between The Travelling Reader and the author. Information about the author is taken from their website and other internet sources.