Take A Peek Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

In Falling Snow


(via Goodreads)

Iris Crane’s tranquil life is shattered when a letter summons memories from her bittersweet past: her first love, her best friend, and the tragedy that changed everything. Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love.

My Thoughts:

In Falling Snow was my book club’s pick for March, and chances are it would never have crossed my radar otherwise. Written by an Australian author, In Falling Snow creates a fictional portrait of life at Royaumont, a real-life field hospital run by a completely female staff during World War I. I found the historical elements of this book the most compelling, witnessing the amazing bravery of the women doctors, nurses, orderlies, and drivers who refused to be pushed aside or belittled, who didn’t accept that women weren’t skilled or tough enough to perform surgery and treat wounded soldiers. The fact that this hospital really existed as described is so inspiring, and I was thrilled to read the author’s afterword with citations of her non-fiction sources.

The fictional characters and the structure of the novel are only middling successful, in my opinion. The storyline shifts between Iris as an old woman and her granddaughter Grace, an Australian obstetrician, and Iris’s memories of her war-time experiences at Royaumont. We’re meant to focus on Iris’s friendship with a fellow hospital staffer named Violet; Iris abruptly cut ties with all of her friends from that time immediately after the war, and it’s around Violet that her thoughts circle, but I didn’t feel the chapters on life at the hospital ever really convinced me that their friendship was so exceptionally special.

Iris is tormented by guilt over her younger brother Tom, and learning his fate and what it meant for Iris is one of the more compelling parts of the story. Early on, I was much more interested in Grace and her family, but her story comes and goes throughout the book and loses steam somehow, even though all the pieces come together by the end.

Overall, I’d say this historical novel is quite interesting in parts, but lacks momentum until about the last third of the book, making big pieces of it feel like a slog. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there’s an odd detachment in long sections of the book. The events of Iris’s experience are described, but I couldn’t get any sense of feeling from them. On the positive side, the elements of the war experiences taken from the historical record are fascinating and horrifying, especially reading about the senseless deaths and terrible experiences of the young men who suffered so horribly in the trenches and battlefields. By the end, the revelation of the secrets that Iris carries throughout her life is a good one, and helps make sense of certain pieces of the novel that seemed random or disconnected.

In Falling Snow takes a bit of patience in parts, but ultimately, I’m glad to have read it. I recommend In Falling Snow for anyone interested in women’s roles in medicine and in reading about World War I- era history.


The details:

Title: In Falling Snow
Author: Mary-Rose MacColl
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 2012
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

4 thoughts on “Take A Peek Book Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

  1. One of the problems with Book Groups is someone picking something that really doesn’t float your boat…conversely, I’ve had people pick things I think “Oh no!” about and they’ve turned out to be incredible. An example is The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which is one of my favourite books ever now – but I’d never have picked it myself! (You’ve probably read it, but if not – DO! It takes a wee while to get going, but when it does – wow!) I was thinking of you the other day, when I was reading about the filming of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon in various bits of Scotland – not near me, sadly! I’ll have to watch it and see what all the fuss is about! Oddly, I think the books are more popular in the US and doubtless Canada (everyone in Scotland has relatives in Canada, including me!) than in the UK – which is great, as it’s a far bigger market!

    • I’d heard that the Outlander books aren’t very big in Scotland, which is funny to me. I hope you do get a chance to see the show — be sure to tell me what you think! I have read The God of Small Things, and completely agree: wow. I have a problem with book groups in general, and have left several when I realized that I just didn’t want to spend my limited reading hours on books that I didn’t pick. I’m sticking with the current group for now, and I’m trying to keep up with the monthly books, but there are some coming up that I may just choose to sit out. I can’t say I’m sorry to have read this book, but I’ve read better. Still, for the perspective on the hospital (who knew there were all-female run field hospitals in WWI?), I’m glad to have read it.

      • I tried to start a Book Group here (small town!) as the two I was aware of had disbanded – one seemed a bit of a scam; it was run by Waterstones book shop and they kept selecting new releases in hardback, so I thought, no, too expensive. I put a post on my Facebook page, and lots of people said, “Great idea!” but no-one said, “I’m in!” Actually, maybe I’ll put a sign up in the library – although this is probably the wrong time of year to start it…I’ll give it a bash, anyway!

        • Library sounds like a great idea! I know our local branch has a few different groups that get together. I suppose you could also just try corralling any reader friends you have and make it a social event. (Isn’t that the cliche about book groups — they’re really just a chance to drink wine and chat?) My last big(ish) book group was at work, which started with 20 people and over time shrank down to six. We kept at it for a while, but eventually decided that none of really had time for it. Too bad — it was fun while it lasted!

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