Monday, March 07, 2016

Review: Fall of Poppies

Fall of Poppies. Stories of Love and the Great War. Short stories anthology.

Asking nine writers to contribute to an anthology of short stories is always going to be like scattering a pack of seeds and seeing what comes up, writes Brian Byrne.

In this instance, all the seeds were poppies, with the direction that they be planted with love in the Armistice of WW1. So at least they would grow on common ground. The result is a poppy flower display with a wide degree of variegation.

'Fall of Poppies' offers a range of love stories set on or around the last day of the Great War. And, since all the contributing writers are women, the key characters in each piece are women too. Sure, the men on the other side of the love equations are there, but mostly on the edges, often in a cordite-fogged distance. Sometimes maimed in body or mind, or dead.

Because it's the women — wives, lovers, mothers, daughters — this is not particularly a book directly about the awfulness of the trenches. More about the pain of loss, the fear of the unknown, the difficulties of continuing to live outside the peripheries of the fighting itself.

Most of the contributors are writers living in North America, and so a number reflect the American involvement in the War. But we have Kate Kerrigan from Dublin, who weaves the Irish rebellion into her piece. And Kilcullen's Hazel Gaynor, whose Yorkshire rural roots underpin a particularly singular view of that snapshot in time when bells pealed across the continent to mark the end of the awfulness. And for many the beginning of awful consequences.

There are nine different styles of writing here. Nine levels of insight and reflection. Nine stories of women dealing with love — and sometimes its obverse, hate — on and after the day the guns fell silent. I liked some better than others, felt some were deeper, was drawn in particularly by a couple. That's the nature, too, of anthology as opposed to a book of stories by one writer. There's likely something individual here for everybody with an interest in the theme.

In these centenary years of looking back at WW1, we have mostly been reading of and hearing about the war itself, the military campaigns, the soldiers who didn't come home and those who did. 'Fall of Poppies', as fiction can do, takes us somewhat beyond the wide expanse of that bloody and hopeless military horror and into the individual heartbreaks. Maybe again because this is a book by women about women, these are also stories about sparks of hope managing to survive when it had long since been beaten and battered away in the War itself.

Already published in the US by HarperCollins, 'Fall of Poppies' goes on sale in the UK and Ireland later this month. It's also available as an ebook on Amazon.