In Memoriam

A novel

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 07 Mar 2023 | Archive Date 06 Apr 2023

Talking about this book? Use #InMemoriam #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


GMA BUZZ PICK • INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLER • A haunting, virtuosic debut novel about two young men who fall in love during World War I • “Dazzling and wrenching, witty and wildly romantic, with echoes of Brideshead Revisited and Atonement.” —Lev Grossman, best-selling author of The Magicians

“In Memoriam is the story of a great tragedy, but it is also a moving portrait of young love, and there is often a lightness to the book.”—The New York Times

“A devastating love story…Gaunt and Ellwood will live in your mind long after you’ve closed the final pages.” —Maggie O’Farrell, best-selling author of Hamnet and The Marriage Portrait

It’s 1914, and World War I is ceaselessly churning through thousands of young men on both sides of the fight. The violence of the front feels far away to Henry Gaunt, Sidney Ellwood and the rest of their classmates, safely ensconced in their idyllic boarding school in the English countryside. News of the heroic deaths of their friends only makes the war more exciting.

Gaunt, half German, is busy fighting his own private battle--an all-consuming infatuation with his best friend, the glamorous, charming Ellwood--without a clue that Ellwood is pining for him in return. When Gaunt's family asks him to enlist to forestall the anti-German sentiment they face, Gaunt does so immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings for Ellwood. To Gaunt's horror, Ellwood rushes to join him at the front, and the rest of their classmates soon follow. Now death surrounds them in all its grim reality, often inches away, and no one knows who will be next.

An epic tale of both the devastating tragedies of war and the forbidden romance that blooms in its grip, In Memoriam is a breathtaking debut.
GMA BUZZ PICK • INTERNATIONAL BEST SELLER • A haunting, virtuosic debut novel about two young men who fall in love during World War I • “Dazzling and wrenching, witty and wildly romantic, with echoes...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780593534564
PRICE $28.00 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 38 members

Featured Reviews

There's probably a poem for this feeling inside me out there somewhere but not in my head, which is utterly empty and numb.

This book. What a masterpiece.

I've read many fictions about wars. Depending on the author's prose and the theme of the story, the same war can be portrayed with different focuses and in different ways. But I've never read a version of WWI that is as bleak, gloomy, heart-wrenching, and horrific as this book. In this story, we follow a bunch of English boys in an elite boarding school. When we first met them, they were spoiled, annoying, boyishly gallant, and so, so full of life. They spent their days squandering money, hitting each other, writing bad poems, and their greatest agony in life was catching feeling for their friend. After all, homosexuality was still illegal in England at the time. Still, to the boys, England was the best nation in the world that should rightfully colonize everyone else, and these boys just can't wait to be in the front line, fighting for their country, becoming the heroes they only ever read about in classics and romantic poems.

And then, one-by-one, they eventually enlisted, and what followed was the kind of horror unlike anything they ever imagined. The story did not shy away from the most graphic depiction of any kinds of violence. The prose is at times very matter-of-fact and dry, which somehow makes the truth more truthful and hits that much harder. Alice Winn is a genius at using different types of proses and formats to construct the roller coaster of emotions in this story. The juxtaposition between the straightforward facts and the flowery poems gave me whiplash. The meaningful switches from standard narration to letters to newsletter managed to condition me to hold my breath in dread. It was frightfully immersive to look through the list of the deceased and wounded with one eye closed, praying that the characters you care for had not died.

Despite the immersive setting, this book is very character-driven. And it's a testament to the author's amazing skill when every character she crafted broke my heart one way or another. The protagonists, Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood, had been best friends and mutually pining after each other for so many years. Their relationship, like everything else, is affected by the war and their traumas. Their emotions are ugly, their yearning raw, and their love seemingly pointless. But theirs is a love story amidst hatred, of gentleness amidst violence. It is all the ugliness that makes their story beautiful. I love them both so, so much.

I don't know how to talk about the supporting characters without having a breakdown. This book didn't turn me into a sobbing mess, but it carved a total void in my heart where some characters - even those that only appears for a half chapter - had been alive and then gone. It's the first time I understand that, if I can still cry because of a book, then I'm quite alright, because when I'm truly devastated, there's only silence, which was what happened when I turned the last page of this book. The war and the characters have all felt so real, so close. I don't think I've fully come out of it yet. And I don't know if I ever will.

Was this review helpful?

What a glorious mixture this book is. This historical tale manages to combine a very realistic look at war with some visceral emotion regarding relationships.

I love when tales feel timeless and while this story is firmly set in 1914 - there's so much in it that will resonate with readers at any age.

And the relationship - from initial tentative fumbling to comradery in the trenches. My heart!

Was this review helpful?

Fantastic, heart-shattering, just harrowing. I could keep going, but I'm sure you get the gist. What a great (but obviously sad) depiction of the war and the horrors that come with it. The characters were wonderful. I'll recommend this to everyone.

Was this review helpful?

I loved Alice Winn's In Memoriam. I could not wait to return to reading it after work and I was horrified that it was going to end. Winn's evocation of World War I--particularly the trenches--is as good as anything I've ever read. It feels much more like a contemporary account written in the 1910s than a piece of historical fiction gazing back over 100 years. I loved the characters. I loved the plot. I loved the romance. The worst experience of my week was finding out that Winn is a debut author and I'm stuck hoping that she writes something else. She had better. I will be thinking about this book for years to come.

Was this review helpful?

Wow. This book moved me, astonished me, enlightened me, wrecked me. I finished it in the middle of the night, huddled around the light of my Kindle, because I simply. could. not. put. it. down.

To state the obvious: This is a difficult story, necessarily full of violence and gore and cruelty. And it's not something I would typically gravitate toward. Many years in journalism covering various conflicts, even from the safety of a newsroom half a world away, left me feeling as if I've read enough accounts of war to last a lifetime. But I'm so glad that I requested an ARC of "In Memoriam" on a trusted recommendation, because I'll remember this book not as a war story, but as a love story.

Gaunt and Ellwood's relationship is what carried me through the book, just as it carries them through the horrors they experience. I was sobbing at certain points and laughing out loud at others. For all the gravity and gruesomeness, it's also a very tender story.

The literary references alone are stunning, from Tennyson (of course), to Shakespeare, to Thucydides to George Eliot (there's a running joke about how the Red Cross keeps sending copies of "Adam Bede" to the front). And the newspaper inserts work very well and didn't, for me, interrupt the flow of the narrative.

I highlighted an absurd number of quotes that I won't share from the uncorrected proof, but the prose really is lovely. It balances bravery and cowardice, love and indifference, fate and choice, kindness and malice. I was reminded of a line from Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," one of the only war books I remember well decades after reading it:

“War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love."

And sometimes, poetry.

"How vain am I! / How should he love a thing so low?”
-Tennyson, "In Memoriam"

Was this review helpful?

I sat down to start a few pages of this haunting, gorgeous novel and ended up staying up until 3 am, fully held in its iron grip. This is a brutal read, but it’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Winn skillfully dives deeply into the pain of war and all the scars (both emotional and physical) that it leaves with prose that had me going back to re-read sentences just because of how perfect they were sculpted. The romance is tender and rendered so wonderfully with love and deep affection for two wounded & flawed characters. This will become an instant classic in the genre!

Was this review helpful?

'In Memoriam' lingers on the precipice of an existential Armageddon, particularly in the first stages of its life. Then it proceeds to fall head-first into a whirl of anguish and torment, pleasure seized and shortened. Every breath it suffocates is pulled from the characters and the reader alike. Gaunt and Ellwood are best friends at Preshute, an elite boarding school in England. Having spent years navigating violence and sexual desire together — and yet forever separately — neither of the boys realizes the extent to which he’s altered the other’s sanity.

And as World War I breaks out and starts to devour Man, the boys’ concept of time is both warped and raised. Experience claws emotion away, tearing through passions once muted with innocence. But the body holds on to the memory of a gentle touch as it crawls toward the horizon of a shared past. Wondrously, the war is already present on the first page of 'In Memoriam,' and though it rests on the lip of a chasm of its own creation, it’s too distant to affect the glorified image that thrives in schoolboys’ imaginations. But as news of the dead starts to pour in, friction between the myth of the “gallant death” and the events veiled by its ubiquity begins to abrade.

As the connection between Gaunt and Ellwood is bent, creased, and electrified at every step, the grapple between ideology and reality continues to intensify, creating a minute battle between conviction and fear. The time spent with the boys and their circle of friends is infused with great banter, sensuality, cruelty, eroticism, and anguish; with only a crisp hint of sentimentality to be discerned. Likewise, rose-colored glasses never tint the boys’ outlook on their circumstances. At a time when homosexuality was illegal, desire and devotion bred nothing but emotional devastation.

Soon, though, Gaunt’s German roots drag him to the front, where the prospect of death seems more appealing than the reality of being called both a spy and a feather man. This is where Winn’s ample research begins to inform a reality that’s both physically and psychologically impaired. War’s necessity to dehumanize alienates the mind from the body, the man from the boy he’s abandoned.

The pained exchange of letters between Gaunt and Ellwood is highly reminiscent of Bruno Vogel’s Alf, an openly gay and pacifist novel written by a former German soldier who had witnessed the horrors of World War I firsthand. Here, the same print of carnage unfolds, with an equally strong vibration of the heart felt at both ends of its spectrum. With time no longer a tangible commodity, 'In Memoriam' sees the past and the present merge and rupture continuously. And as we swing back and forth between their junctures, we glean more of each man’s nature. This, naturally, leaves us developing deep intimacy with all the tethers and trepidations that serve to humanize a body shredded by metal.

It’s no wonder that the notion of civilization is razed, what with its dearth in such inhumane circumstances. After all, to be civilized means to prolong the suffering of a moribund friend, “we had to save him, or else we wouldn’t be civilized any more.” Still, Winn takes things a step further, executing a terrific takedown of class segregation and colonialism, speaking to both the heart and the intellect. Consequently, as soldiers are pumped from the colonies to the trenches, the insolence of imperialism is pushed to the fore, “enlightening Indians — Indians! They who built the Taj Mahal! And Egyptians! For we knew better than their pyramids!”

And yet, no matter how grand In Memoriam’s message, how sweeping and all-consuming its butchery, at its heart rest two boys undergoing a reluctant transformation. This allows us to keep one eye trained on the person, the human element wiped out by a brutality deemed impenetrable by a lucid mind. Between Gaunt and Ellwood exist endless stretches of miscommunication. They lead to skewed expectations and unspeakable grief, for the heart batters a docile body.

The twosome’s unsteady beginnings foster an erratic future, and its every tilt seems reflected in the tremors of a shelled earth. So much so, that the prospect of happiness incites not ecstasy, but rage. The very impossibility of true fulfillment makes beasts of wounded spirits, “there was no vibrancy to a friendship not threatened by violence.” Even in its fiercest form, desire is seen as something boyish and immature, pure but fleeting in the face of “respectability.” As a result, even the mundane harbors shrapnel of sorrow.

Its very keenness seems to stand in direct contrast to the ethereal longing found in Aleksandar Hemon’s 'The World and All That It Holds,' a forthcoming novel that similarly hones in on the atrocities of WWI and the fates of the two men it bound together as lovers. In Memoriam’s range of despair, covering both ardor and barbed dispassion, is also far more cutting than the moral angle glimpsed in John Boyne’s 'The Absolutist' or the sentimental focus of Philippe Besson’s 'In the Absence of Men.' Its breadth even manages to surpass the wartime agonies of William di Canzio’s 'Alec,' though the two novels share many bases of intensity.

Winn’s inclusion of casualty lists from start to finish is particularly brilliant. Through them, we experience the characters’ dejection at the sight of a name that previously occupied flesh and bone, making itself loveable. There’s no flinching away from the horrors of war. The mention of gas breeds meaty descriptions, not elusive pontification, “coughing up scrambled bits of lung.”

Above all, there’s an unerring focus on the intricacy and tenderness of the lives interrupted — and smothered— by the outbreak of war. As friendships and loves disintegrate, more and more of the page seems spoiled by the putrid mud of the trenches. It’s as physical as a contemporary account of war can get. And so, through the fates of the central friend group, we witness the figurative obliteration of a generation.

More and more, we take notice of the difficult intimacy we’ve grown accustomed to; one that is entirely devoid of allure, “With a strange lurch of intimacy, Ellwood realised he could see Finch’s exposed lung.” Winn’s psychological study of each character is, likewise, exceptional. With individual wants, fears, and longings weighed against communal neurasthenia and shell shock — known today as PTSD — In Memoriam’s topography of emotion is endlessly debilitating.

What distracts us from the burden of an unraveling mind is the astonishing adventure woven into the narrative. It never lets up, maintaining a balance between the transcendental and the physical. Poetry, the most neutralizing of all beauties, serves as both Ellwood’s medium of expression—capturing his inarticulate love—and an ode to the World War I poets who preserved their hell in verse. Siegfried Sassoon, one of the most enduring poets of the era, even figures among Winn’s sources of inspiration.

And while other modern World War I novels create an impression of warfare in more abstract terms, 'In Memoriam' drags us into the war machine that it so dutifully disassembles. Its brutality is endless, in that it is woefully timeless. Again and again, we see tragedy unfold, and a character jerked back midpage to serve as a sacrifice for the blind fury of Man.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: