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Four Days: the Story of a War Marriage

October 24, 2012

Four Days: the Story of a War Marriage, by Hetty Hemenway, is exactly what it says it is. We don’t get the story of Leonard and Marjorie’s courtship, beyond the basic details (she’s American, he’s English, they met in the US and their wedding plans were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I). We also don’t find out what happens to Leonard and Marjorie after he returns to the Dardanelles. All we get is the four days of Leonard’s leave, during which he and Marjorie are reunited, get married, briefly honeymoon, and then part again.

The extremely limited scope of the book lets it cover its ground pretty thoroughly. It’s not really a romance because, while we do get a fair amount of Leonard and Marjorie being kind of sickeningly in love, we also get his family’s jealousy of Marjorie, Leonard’s attempts to cope with the war, and Marjorie’s wider, more tolerant view of the war vying with her fears for her husband. I can never decide whether or not I like it when young women in books feel maternal towards their love interests.

The wide-ranging, open-ended approach is an interesting one, but the book — it’s barely a novella, really — isn’t long enough the explore the questions it brings up. And some of those questions are really interesting — my favorite thing was the way Hemenway contrasted the point of view of Marjorie, who had gone to school in Germany for a year and was…used to thinking of Germans as people, with that of Leonard, who very badly needed not to think of the Germans as people in order to keep killing them. And on one hand it’s pretty cool that Hemenway shows this without making a big thing of it, but on the other hand nothing else in the book is as fascinating.

I don’t know. I felt like I should have enjoyed it more than I did. An interesting book, but not a great one or a fun one.

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