My copy of my recently stumbled-upon book Five Children on the Western Front finally arrived yesterday; I read most of it last night and finished it when I came home for lunch today. And it’s pretty much everything I wanted it to be. The writing isn’t perfectly in Nesbit-voice; for instance, I’ve definitely come across “Dad” instead of “Father” or “Pater” or “Governor” in books of that vintage (L.M. Montgomery used it, for one, and I think Angela Brazil did too) but I can’t remember it in Nesbit, except for an instance of “Daddy” at a pivotal moment in The Railway Children. That’s not an isolated example, but in general Kate Saunders sticks close enough to Nesbit’s voice that it never threw me out of the story. (Which is more than you can say for most Austen pastiches I’ve read!)

She also does a good job creating two new characters, the Lamb (who was in Five Children and It and its sequels, but only as a baby with no character yet) and a younger sister, Edie. Edie especially is as likeable as Elfrida Arden or any of Nesbit’s better characters, and another new character, Lillian, feels like she stepped out of one of Angela Brazil’s books – I bet she was Hockey Captain at her school!. There are also some nice nods to Nesbit herself – Edie is shot for Edith, and the children’s father, a newspaper editor, is a Socialist. The story really does have the feel of my own A Girl Called Alice, but Saunders does what I couldn’t have done and makes a whole book out of it. I like the way the War goes from an adventure to the center of everyday life, and the way she shows the growing tragedy of it in a way that still fits into the voice – as if Rilla of Ingleside were mashed up with Five Children and It.

What was weird for me, though, was that, as I put the book down to go to sleep last night, I was thinking about why so many WWI novels, or stories set after the war and growing out of it, whether contemporary or recent, seem so resonant for me – the stories of Rilla, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Phryne Fisher for three. And I thought, “Of course, it’s because they think like us.” And “us”, in my half-asleep mind, were so many of you guys – the readers and writers whose blogs I’ve been reading all these years. You think strange things, going off to sleep, but I think this one is true. Except for Harding’s Luck, Nesbit’s stories and others from pre-War are so idyllic – the golden time will go on, children can dream of growing up to be explorers or soldiers without every worrying about disaster, and children can be sheltered. The post-War stories have had their world shattered, as we’ve seen a few more times, but they hold on to ideals and still believe that somehow, not all of the sacrifice is useless (even while acknowledging how much of it was stupid) and that maybe the world will get better if we keep faith. I know plenty of people who don’t feel that way, who think we’re on a downhill track or who don’t think about it at all, but I don’t think they’re part of my drowsing brain’s “we”. Maybe that’s the common thread in the journals I’ve stuck with over the years.