Cover Image: In Memoriam

In Memoriam

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Member Reviews

I loved this book, although it took me longer than usual to read it as I had to keep breaking off when it became too upsetting. It is brilliantly written though, and the characters really come alive as essentially young boys. The sheer scale of the losses never loses its force, and the way the "survivors" talk so casually about the dead and injured is heartbreaking. The relationship between Ellwood and Gaunt is very believable, and they are completely sympathetic, in spite of their privilege, and their attitudes.
My one small gripe (which the author acknowledges) is the way she has lifted accounts and put them (successfully) in the book. I kept coming across incidents which seemed familiar to me, but in a different context. It doesn't detract from this excellent, but very moving book though.
This book deserves to be part of the classic literature about the Great War. I will definitely be recommending this to everyone I know.

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An incredible book, absolutely heartbreaking at times but full of such love and joy. I think this is one of my favourite books in a long time and it will stay with me for a long time

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This was one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Gaunt and Ellwood's story will stay in my mind forever and I felt so compelled to keep reading. I had to take breaks regularly to stop myself from crying but my heart ached and longed to know more! Already one of my top reads this year.

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In Memoriam does not disappoint, living up to the hype and all the recommendations out there. A beautifully crafted tale of male friendship, longing and love, which sees the storyline flit between the boredom and horrors of the trenches of France to the disconnect of life in the UK. The narrative is interspersed with 'memoriam' lists for fallen comrades providing a stark reality of real loss, highlighting the volume of youth killed in a single public school microcosm.

Although centring on a homosexual relationship, Winn is able to examine the numerous ways in which society hides parts of themselves, whether that be trauma of war, trauma of difference, trauma of class or trauma of 'luck'.

In Memoriam feels like a very truthful and honest read, unflinching in it's spotlight on one of the darkest eras of human conflict, finding hope and joy in hidden corners.

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I really don’t think I can do justice to quite how phenomenal In Memoriam is – but I will try my best. It is essentially a love story set in the midst of the First World War between two young men from the same boarding school in England. I have read a lot of war stories, although mostly from World War Two, however this has to be one of the most affecting and devastatingly heart wrenching accounts of the horror and trauma that millions of young men, often teenagers, faced during World War One. In Memoriam is harrowing, unflinchingly brutal and terrifying in its honesty about what soldiers on the front line experienced. It also sheds a light on the trauma and life long consequences for the few that managed to survive. Saying all that, this is somehow not a depressing book. It is tender, delicate and achingly moving in its depiction of the main characters, Gaunt and Ellwood, and their complicated, yet somehow simple in its devotion, relationship. I rarely find myself in tears over a book but In Memoriam managed it.

I genuinely find it staggering that this is a debut novel. It feels like a classic piece of literature already, I know it will stay in my mind forever. Alice Winn writes as if she was in the World War One trenches, which is obviously not the case, but it truly feels that immediate whilst reading. She somehow manages to extract a sense of beauty and love even in the darkest and most horrifying of circumstances. In Memoriam is a tour de force love story written with an assured elegance and depth. One of the best books I’ve ever read.

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When I read this blurb, I knew it was immediately going to the top of my need to read list, and honestly, it didn’t disappoint. Set in 1914, we meet the boys of a boarding school in the idyllic English countryside, so far removed from the horrors of the frontline, that the news of their former classmates dying for their country seems heroic and almost exciting.

Our protagonist Henry Gaunt is not only struggling with the fact that he is half German in the biggest war between his two nationalities, but he is also coming to terms with an all-consuming infatuation with his best friend Sidney… in a world where two men are not free to love each other.

Forced by his family to enlist, Gaunt feels he has no choice but to pull himself away from Sidney, only to find that Sidney is reluctant to let him go and also later enlists. Now they are surrounded by the realities of war, and the fact that they may not ever find a way back to each other.

What Alice Winn accomplishes in her debut novel is nothing short of literary magic. Her characters are engaging without being overly perfect; these boys are incredibly privileged and flawed, but you can’t help being won over by their charm and this beautiful relationship she weaves together. Their connection is raw, honest and compelling and there’s something very real about the people she’s brought to life on paper.

Winn does not shy away from reality either, presenting not only the horrors of war, but highlighting class difference as well as tackling the idea of homosexuality in a world where it simply wasn’t accepted. Her writing is visceral, truthful and often violent and you can’t help but be moved and changed by this story.

In Memoriam is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that had me reaching for my tissues more than once. Beautiful work that I’m already planning to reread.

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“He thought perhaps all the pain would sour the love, but instead it drew him further in, as if he were Marc Antony, falling on his own sword. And it was a magical thing, to love someone so much; it was a feeling so strange and slippery, like a sheath of fabric cut from the sky.”

Short version: This novel swept me up in an epic love story and dropped me down in the trenches of the First World War and I don't think I will be quite the same ever again.

I love novels like this, ones that can take you to the far reaches of a particular time and place and make you feel as though it were yesterday. I could picture the clean, orderly classrooms of the school and the bright faces of the young men pouring over the Roll of Honour in The Preshuitan newspaper, eagerly hoping for their turn to go to the front. The descriptions of the conditions in the trenches are in full technicolour - the stinking mud, the rats feeding on the corpses of soldiers, and in one particularly horrifying passage, the fingers of men sticking out of the ground and into the trench where the ground they had been buried in had washed away in the rain.

I appreciated the nod towards the war poets (particularly Siegfriend Sassoon and Wilfred Owen) via Ellwood, who is full of the words of Tennyson and Keats before the war but it's only when he's fighting can he express himself on the page. Ironically, it's the lack of communication between Ellwood and Gaunt that often leads to conflict between them.

The love story between Ellwood and Gaunt was definitely the element that kept me reading. I wanted to find out whether they could get their "happy ending" or if the war would keep them apart. The secret longing, the unspoken desires and then their coming together are almost tangible through the pages. Both characters have their flaws, Ellwood is vain and selfish and Gaunt can be far too stoic but this added a realistic element to the relationship.

In Memoriam was an incredible novel to read, especially in the days leading up to Remembrance Day, and the clippings from The Preshutian listing the school boys who died for their country was very sobering. I have two stepsons aged 21 and 19 and I can't bear to think about how they might have fared in the trenches. I look forward to reading more by Alice Winn in the future.

Recommend to fans of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, Regeneration by Pat Barker and My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young.

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What an incredible debut by Alice Winn. Two 17year old boys at a posh Wiltshire boarding school get sent to war. One to escape their confusing feelings for the other. This is beautifully written and fast paced. Absolutely loved it and recommend.

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Fantastic book, very daring
Real page turner of love loss and war. Utterly emotional

Thank you for the chance to read this book.

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WW1 set novels are a real weakness of mine and I was hooked on this one from the very beginning and was invested in the boys' wars from the outset and really felt that I was a fly on the wall of all of the action.
Having read widely around WW1 for many years I very much liked the nods to other literature and events from the time - especially Journey's End which is one of my favourite plays of all time.

This is a definite contender for my best of the year list

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This is a book ever, one should read - it is deeply moving and profound and shows the brutality of the war which begins at the school (Marlbrough College) and how the boys play in the woods, have fights and quote poems to each other leading us to two boys in particular, Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood who have intense feelings for each other, forbidden feelings as they were at that time.
Gaunt enlists as soon as he is 18 and Ellwood follows soon afterwards.
This is a love story of a different kind, but adventure is a big part of the story with excellent descriptions of the trenches, POW camps and daring escapes.
This is surprisingly a debut novel and one which is so moving and it is a moving account of the Great War and class destruction and the loss of innocent lives to many to mention.

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This is quite possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read! Deeply moving, poignant with a full mix of tragedy and warmth. Elwood, Gaunt and their gang of lovable mates both filled and broke my heart. I loved the way the narrative moved perspectives, from past to present, from poem to letter to newspaper to prose. An absolutely sublime debut. Perfection!

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Without a doubt the best book I’ve read this year and one of my favourite ever reads. Song of Achilles meets WW1 - I couldn’t get enough of this and I’m so sad to have finished it!

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In many ways, In Memoriam is a WW1 story that has been told many times - 2 public schoolboys volunteer and quickly learn the horrible realities of war in the trenches - but seen through the eyes of two gay protaganists.

Winn really captures the era, but its the characters of Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood and their relationship that are the heart of the story. From pining schoolboys unable to admit their feelings, to soldiers finding joy with each other amongst the terror of war to battle-hardened world-weary adults, I was rooting for these characters throughout.

There were a few small issues (they send a lot of letters that would be risky to send due to army censorship, for example) that slightly pulled me out of story.

But, overall, this was an emotional queer story with compelling characters and a vivid historical setting.

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This book was heartbreaking. I honestly couldn't keep reading for how much it was tearing me apart. I haven't cried so much while reading a book, and I just couldn't see a happy ending coming. Did not finish.

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Wow wow wow - there was so much love for this book before it was published and I can totally see why.

The moving, emotionally packed love story between two men in the first world war trenches, neither of them aware of the other one's feelings. Alice Winn is such a skilled writer, the story is moving but not mawkish, the men's feelings towards one another are so tenderly explored as well as the realities of WW1. The characters were so wonderfully realised and felt very real; a strange mix of innocence and adulthood about them all.

Highly recommended, though utterly heartbreaking to read so tissues at the ready!

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An enjoyable read set during WW1, an era which I love reading about. I found the constant use of surnames made it hard to remember characters who later showed up and were blown to bits - it would have had more emotional resonance if I had been able to connect with the characters by remembering them, but I understand that the upper classes seem to call each other by their surnames and I'm a working classer so that didn't work for me. Writing was easy to read, no more.

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PR gifted from @netgalley

This is a 5 star read. In my view, there are 3 stories here
1. The relationship between 2 main characters,
2. The First World War and
3. The network/class system from English public boys schools.

The relationship is a roller coaster from start to end. And the entire book is set before the guys reach 20 - such maturity is hard to fathom today. The narrative on the war is some of the most harrowing and descriptive I’ve ever read. It is truly shocking and largely this took over the story for me. And the third element of the boys at officer level in the war all knowing each other from English society really surprised me, not in a good or bad way, just interesting to see how it plays out, even outside the school system.

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Heartstopper on the Western Front; swoon! It’s literary fiction set in the trenches of WWI, yes, but also a will-they-won’t they romance that opens at an English boarding school. Oh they will (have sex, that is), before the one-third point, but the lingering questions are: will Ellwood and Gaunt both acknowledge that this is love and not just sex, as it is for so many teenage boys at their school (either consensually, as buddies; or forced by bullies); and will one or both survive the war? “It was ridiculous, incongruous for Ellwood to be bandying about words like ‘love’ when they were preparing to venture out into No Man’s Land.”

Winn is barely past 30 (and looks like a Victorian waif in her daguerreotype-like author photo), yet keeps a tight control of her tone and plot in this debut novel. She depicts the full horror of war, with detailed accounts of battles at Loos, Ypres and the Somme, and the mental health effects on soldiers, but in between there is light-heartedness: banter, friendship, poetry. Some moments are downright jolly. I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that Adam Bede is the only novel available and most of them have read it four times. Gaunt is always the more pessimistic of the two main characters, while Ellwood’s initially flippant sunniness darkens through what he sees and suffers.

I only learned from the Acknowledgements and Historical Note that Preshute is based on Marlborough College, a posh school local to me, and that certain particulars are drawn from Siegfried Sassoon, as well as other war literature. It’s clear the book has been thoroughly, even obsessively, researched. But Winn has a light touch with it, and characters who bring social issues into the narrative aren’t just 2D representatives of them but well rounded and essential: Gaunt (xenophobia), Ellwood (antisemitism), Hayes (classism), Devi (racism); not to mention disability and mental health for several. I loved how Ellwood is devoted to Tennyson and often quotes from his work, including the book-length elegy In Memoriam itself. This plus the “In Memoriam” columns of the school newspaper give the title extra resonance.

I thought I was done with war fiction, but really what I was done with was worthy, redundant Faulks-ian war fiction. This was engaging, thrilling (a prison escape!), and, yes, romantic.

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In Memoriam is a debut, and I’m perplexed. Alice Winn sucked me into Gaunt’s and Ellwood’s story and took me from the idyllic green English countryside with privileged, spoiled school boys reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream and glorifying fighting to the nauseating WWI trenches where those boys’ lives changed forever, watching soldiers’ eyes bulging out of their heads because of gas attacks or shells killing multiple soldiers in an instance. But PTSD didn’t exist back then …

“Ellwood had a sudden image of blood pouring down the train carriage, the way it had flooded down the trench when one of his men had had his insides scooped out by shrapnel from a trench mortar.”

Alice also powerfully showed the differences between those privileged boys and the working class, which made chills run over my body; eighteen/nineteen-year-old officers, sometimes even minors, giving the often much older privates orders, letting them march into a certain death.

”Over the top, you cowardly bastards!” I cried, my voice breaking, because I did not want to do it, I didn’t, Elly, I knew those men, but what other choice had I? They were stupid with fear, and only more fear would move them.

This story is violent and raw, harrowing, and, at the same time, mind-blowing. Alice swept me off my feet with her brilliant prose, the perfect use of a non-linear timeline and humanizing both sides of the battle. She pictured real and flawed characters and let me fall head over heels in love with Gaunt (Henry) and Ellwood (Elly/Sidney). Those two boys who were so in love with each other but didn’t dare to tell the other, Elly afraid to lose their friendship, Gaunt afraid to give in to what it meant to be in love with a man, both afraid to lose the one they loved the most.

It was a magical thing, to love someone so much; it was a feeling so strange and slippery, like a sheath of fabric cut from the sky.

I treasured the bonds that grew between boys and men, sometimes deep friendships and at other times a short-term brotherhood, and how most men treated the relationship between Ellwood and Gaunt so casually. His fellow classmates knew Ellwood liked boys, and they just let him. And Gaunt learned that something he found so hard to accept wasn’t that difficult for others.

“To have something that he had thought so grave be treated lightly and playfully—it was reassuring. He felt as if he had shed something, some weight he had not known he carried.”

This book, this book, this book. It made me smile, it made me weep, it made me angry, it made me ache. In Memoriam is utterly gorgeous, a genre-bending story, historical, literary, an M/M romance, action-packed and still so character-driven, and therefore a book that, in my opinion, should become a bestseller, translated in many, many languages. This book deserves to be the next The Song of Achilles! So please, please, read this story!

“When he and Ellwood were gentle with one another, there was a sense of awe to it. Their tenderness was hesitant and temporary, like a butterfly pausing on a child’s hand.”

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