A shattering breakup leaves Robert convinced that he is a destructive force in romantic relationships. When he finds himself falling in love with David, an old friend from boarding school, he’s sure that he shouldn’t confess his feelings. But as their meandering conversations drift from books and poetry to more intimate topics, Robert’s love deepens – and so do his fears of hurting David.
Since he was wounded, David has been batted from hospital to hospital like a shuttlecock, leaving him adrift and anxious. His renewed friendship with Robert gives him a much-needed sense of peace and stability. Slowly, David opens up to Robert about the nervous fears that plague him, and when Robert responds with sympathy and support, David finds himself feeling much more than friendship. But he’s afraid that he’s already a burden on Robert, and that asking for more will only strain their developing bond.
Can these two wounded soldiers heal each other?
This was just a bit longer than a novella, primarily told from Robert’s POV, with three brief epistolary sections with letters written by David. It’s overall melancholy, which makes sense for a WWI romance between two soldiers who’ve lost limbs and their youth to the war. They enlisted shortly after leaving boarding school, and though they read as older because of their experiences, they’re probably in their early 20s for the story. They’re both traumatized by their time in the trenches in different ways. David struggles with anxiety and depression, and is deeply unhappy.
Robert is a difficult character to like, consumed by guilt that he cheated (a lot) on his last partner while deployed in the trenches. He’s terrified of hurting David just as badly — and of being hurt as badly as he was by his partner who told him he’d “rather have died at the Somme” than learn of Robert’s infidelity. His need for physicality is explained but it’s still…tricky for a romance novel protagonist.
Robert also comes across patronizing to the slightly younger David, calling him “sweet boy,” “darling boy,” and so on, and the way he treats David is uncomfortably perched on the line between giving a friend the helpful nudges they need to take care of themselves and making decisions for him (crossing that line sometimes). He seems easily irritated, although he is quick to apologize when he acts like a dick and takes it out on David. It’s unclear whether this is a character trait or related to his trauma. I think hearing more from David’s perspective would have balanced this and made it seem healthier.
The ending didn’t land for me — there was a big time jump that felt abrupt, and then I think I was supposed to read something into the story at the end but my brain is anti-literary so I need cryptic metaphors to be nearly explicit 😉