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Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War    by Jennifer Robson order for
Somewhere in France
by Jennifer Robson
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Somewhere in France begins shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. The main protagonist is the youngest daughter of an earl, Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford, whose mother expects her to follow in the footsteps of her older sisters, in other words, stop reading so many books and get serious about marrying another member of the peerage. Lady Elizabeth has other ambitions for herself. When she was younger she hoped to be allowed to go to college, but at least a good governess was found for her with the help of her brother Edward. Miss Charlotte Brown proved to be a friend as well as an excellent teacher.

A ball is held in July, 1914, at the family's mansion in Belgrave Square, London. Elizabeth's mother hopes to encourage an alliance between her daughter and a cousin of Elizabeth's brother-in-law. Early in the evening, however, Elizabeth spots a dear friend of her brother, a handsome Scot named Robbie Fraser, whom she met years before and developed a crush on because of his kindness toward her during a visit he made to the family estate in Cumbria.

Robbie, who comes from a poor family, was a scholarship student at Oxford, and he is now a surgeon, but in 1914 his family background makes him an unsuitable romantic interest for the daughter of an earl. After Elizabeth's mother discovers Elizabeth and Robbie spending time together at the ball and having a lengthy conversation, she manages to separate them long enough to tell Robbie that Elizabeth has an understanding with the young man she has in mind for her daughter. Robbie leaves the ball without saying goodbye.

Elizabeth is devastated, but after the war starts, her brother sends her Robbie's address in France and tells her he's sure that a letter from her would be welcome. The letters from somewhere in France begin to flow to and fro, Elizabeth finds someone to teach her to drive, and she finally manages to join the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and get posted to the same casualty clearing station where Robbie is performing operations on injured soldiers.

This novel is a wonderful love story as well as being an interesting account of what World War I was like for the women in Britain who became nurses and drivers in the WAAC. The women's story is central, although Robbie's experiences as a surgeon are equally compelling. The Great War, as it was called, changed the world in so many ways, but it particularly changed the social structure of Britain. The peerage became less important, while ordinary working people moved into a robust middle class. There are elements in this story that reflect the situation in the television show Downton Abbey, which shows the changing lives and fortunes of one earl's family and servants during and after the war. I like that show a great deal, and I really loved this novel.

Lady Elizabeth, or Lilly as she becomes to hide her background from her fellow WAAC members, is a wonderful character, kind, empathetic, and intelligent. We cheer her on as she struggles to change her life, and we rejoice in her successes as well as suffer with her over her failures. I particularly appreciated the glossary of terms used in the novel, since many of these are no longer common knowledge. Somewhere in France is an engrossing tale which also manages to teach some history.

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