The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War

By Jacqueline Winspear

(Harper, $26.99, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

Jacqueline Winspear is a British author now living in California, who is best known for her popular Maisie Dobbs novels, featuring a nurse with psychology training turned private investigator in London in the early 1900s. Her debut Dobbs’ novel, in 2003, made lists of best books from Publishers Weekly and The New York Times and also was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. “Care and Management” is not part of the Dobbs series, but is also a historical novel set during World War I.

Winspear loves the outdoors: horseback riding, hiking, sailing, and mountain biking are among her pursuits. She also loves traveling, and found a way to do it without cost, she told an interviewer:

“My first ever job after college was as a flight attendant. I wanted to travel and could not afford it, so I decided to get myself a job where I could travel. I did it for two years and had great fun.”

What is this book about?

It was billed as “the war to end all wars,” but sadly, that was not to be the case. This historical novel, set in 1914, looks at World War I through the eyes of two young women, one of whom, Kezia, is marrying the her best friend Thea’s brother, Tom. He’s off to the war, leaving Kezia to manage the family farm, and Thea, who is on the outs with her, gives her a guide to good housekeeping, “A Woman’s Book,” as a snarky wedding gift. Kezia proves to be better as a farm manager than Tom is as a soldier; Thea, though a passionate suffragette and pacifist at heart, joins the war effort as an ambulance driver as the international conflagration grows. Though set in a time of great public upheaval, this is primarliy a novel about individuals caught up soul-testing times.

Why you’ll like it:

Winspear has created engaging, believable characters in this tale, the kind that make readers wonder what they themselves would do if living through similar times. There are no flamboyant heroics here, just regular folks coping with world-shaking events and bravely trying to hold on to some semblance of normal life. There is something very British about this effort, and readers will be rewarded with a fine character study firmly embedded in a lesson about war, set in a conflict that is ever more rapidly retreating into the past, but that still holds meaning for us today.

What others are saying:

Booklist says: “What kind of farm wife would educated Kezia Marchant make in 1914, wonders her dearest friend, Thea Brissenden? Just before Kezia marries Thea’s brother, Tom, who runs the family farm, Thea gives the bride-to-be an ironic gift, The Woman’s Book, the actual volume, published in 1911, that inspired this novel. As it turns out, Kezia brings a different, lighter tone to the farm, particularly in cooking, which is new to her. After Tom feels duty bound to enlist in the Great War, Kezia fills her letters with mouth-watering accounts of the meals she is preparing for him, descriptions that become ragingly popular as he reads them to members of his unit on the front lines in France. As Kezia proves proficient in managing the farm and keeping discouraging news from Tom, who has become the whipping boy of his hard-nosed sergeant, Thea, in danger of arrest for her pacifist activities, also joins the war effort. In a stand-alone departure from her popular post-WWI mystery series featuring psychologist Maisie Dobbs, Winspear has created memorable characters in a moving, beautifully paced story of love and duty.”

Says Kirkus in a starred review: “Five kind and honorable people are caught up in the depredations of the Great War in this first stand-alone novel by the author of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series. In 1914, as war looms, newlyweds Tom and Kezia Brissenden are making a go of the farm Tom inherited from his father, a farm that would have been part of the estate of wealthy gentleman Edmund Hawkes had not his great-grandfather lost it to Tom’s great-grandfather in a darts game. Kezia, a vicar’s daughter, is earnestly striving to supplant her finishing school ways with those of a farm wife, consulting a housewifery guide, The Woman’s Book. . . .  Tom and Hawkes both enlist and are sent to the front line in France, where Tom, a private, serves under Capt. Hawkes. Kezia keeps Tom’s spirits up with her letters describing the sumptuous meals she prepares for him in her imagination, where wartime food shortages and government inroads on the farm’s production aren’t problems. The whole battalion soon looks forward to her letters and the occasional fruitcake. However, Tom is scapegoated by this novel’s closest thing to a villain, the cynical and embittered Sgt. Knowles, who resents the influx of so many green recruits. Meanwhile, Tom’s sister (and Kezia’s best friend), Thea, anguishes over whether she will be arrested for her activities as a suffragette and pacifist. Ultimately, she decides that the only way to escape government oppression is to reaffirm her loyalty: She becomes an ambulance driver at the front, where Kezia’s father, Rev. Marchant, is ministering to troops in the trenches. Without questioning either the cause of the war or the dubious tactics employed, seemingly, to ensure maximum loss of life for minimal military advantage, these characters simply get on with it, reaffirming our faith in the possibility of everyday nobility. A sad, beautifully written, contemplative testament.”

“Winspear’s beloved period mysteries featuring Masie Dobbs depict an England haunted by memories of the Great War, so it’s no surprise that she uses the conflict as the backdrop to this elegiac historical, her first stand-alone novel. Kezia and Tom Brissenden have been married only a few weeks when Britain declares war on Germany on August 4, 1914. Tom enlists, leaving his town-bred bride in charge of his sprawling Kent farm. His commanding officer is Edmund Hawkes, an aristocratic neighbor whose loneliness is magnified amid the horror of the trenches. Meanwhile, Thea Brissenden, Tom’s sister and Kezia’s estranged best friend, volunteers as an ambulance driver on the front lines to avoid charges of sedition stemming from her involvement with a pacifist group. Kezia and Tom exchange letters full of love and well-intended deceit concocted to shield the other from anguish, while Edmund and Thea struggle to overcome self-deception and find meaning in a senseless war. VERDICT Though this is not a mystery, Winspear’s fans should welcome the keen period detail and thoughtful tone so familiar from the Maisie Dobbs books, while historical fiction readers will be gripped by this sensitive portrayal of ordinary men and women on the home front and battlefield,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

This book about World War I, and many others, can be borrowed from the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Mark Twain branch.

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