It's 1914, and World War I is ceaselessly churning through thousands of young men on both sides of the fight. The violence of the front feels far away to Henry Gaunt, Sidney Ellwood and the rest of their classmates, safely ensconced in their idyllic boarding school in the English countryside. Gaunt, half German, is busy fighting his own private battle—an all-consuming infatuation with his best friend, the glamorous, charming Ellwood—without a clue that Ellwood is pining for him in return.
Winn’s prose is percussive, driving the story forward with a mix of Edwardian masculine sentimentality and the improbable plotting of a period romance ... The book is cut into the shape of a thousand cliffhangers, and although once or twice it strains credulity, I couldn’t put it down ... Winn’s exquisite pacing lives in her syntax as much as her plot, giving vim and vigor to every line.
At once epic and intimate, humorous and profound, a vivid rendering of the madness and legacy of the first world war as seen through the lens of a schoolboy love affair ... Although Winn is interested in what war does to the self and to abstract notions of beauty, bravery and home, she doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the frontline ... Even in the direst moments Winn’s dialogue thrums with mirth and furious intelligence. Throughout, she artfully switches perspectives and settings, leaving the reader in desperate suspense over fates and fortunes.
The horrors of life in the trenches are described in stomach-turning detail ... Winn has not written this book for easy reading on the Tube. There is an ease to her writing, though, a zippy confidence, unusual for a debut, that allows her to skip across Europe ... In Memoriam concludes in a slightly lacklustre fashion, with a feeling of lost momentum. Loose ends are tied up, characters married off or exiled, but Winn refuses an easy happy ending. She shows the rather less satisfying reality of living with the trauma of war.