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Reviews of In Memoriam by Alice Winn

In Memoriam

A Novel

by Alice Winn

In Memoriam by Alice Winn X
In Memoriam by Alice Winn
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2023, 400 pages

    Mar 2024, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

Winner: BookBrowse Debut Book Award 2023

A haunting, virtuosic debut novel about two young men who fall in love during World War I.

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. News of the heroic deaths of their friends only makes the war more exciting.

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. When Gaunt's family asks him to enlist to forestall the anti-German sentiment they face, Gaunt does so immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings for Ellwood. To Gaunt's horror, Ellwood rushes to join him at the front, and the rest of their classmates soon follow. Now death surrounds them in all its grim reality, often inches away, and no one knows who will be next.

An epic tale of both the devastating tragedies of war and the forbidden romance that blooms in its grip, In Memoriam is a breathtaking debut.


Ellwood was a prefect, so his room that year was a splendid one, with a window that opened onto a strange outcrop of roof. He was always scrambling around places he shouldn't. It was Gaunt, however, who truly loved the roof perch. He liked watching boys dipping in and out of Fletcher Hall to pilfer biscuits, prefects swanning across the grass in Court, the organ master coming out of Chapel. It soothed him to see the school functioning without him, and to know that he was above it.

Ellwood also liked to sit on the roof. He fashioned his hands into guns and shot at the passers-by.

"Bloody Fritz! Got him in the eye! Take that home to the Kaiser!"

Gaunt, who had grown up summering in Munich, did not tend to join in these soldier games.

Balancing The Preshutian on his knee as he turned the page, Gaunt finished reading the last "In Memoriam." He had known seven of the nine boys killed. The longest "In Memoriam" was for Clarence Roseveare, the older brother of one of Ellwood's friends. As to ...

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Winner: BookBrowse Debut Book Award 2023

Winn's descriptions of the WWI battlefront leave an indelible image and the author realistically conveys the various ways conflicts like this can leave someone permanently scarred, both physically and emotionally. As well-written as the novel's battle scenes are, its highlight is the love story between Ellwood and Gaunt, and the dynamic between the two sets up the primary tension in the narrative. Winn completely captures Ellwood and Gaunt's terrible longing for each other and the ache of their unexpressed love...continued

Full Review Members Only (708 words)

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Winn's prose is percussive, driving the story forward with a mix of Edwardian masculine sentimentality and the improbable plotting of a period romance ... Winn's exquisite pacing lives in her syntax as much as her plot, giving vim and vigor to every line.

Booklist (starred review)
Winn's finely accomplished debut novel is a rare thing, an intoxicating romance and an impossible-to-put-down war story in one ... Winn captures the war as it looked, sounded, and smelled, but the ultimate death-defying acts here are in literature, breathtaking bravery, and love.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Powerful, deeply imagined ... One of the wonderful aspects of Winn's debut is that, just when you think you've settled into a tender literary novel, its revelations and surprises begin to unfurl at an impressive pace that reads more like a thriller ... Winn's battle scenes are hair-raising and terrifying, but her portraits of Sidney and Henry are intimate and evocative ... A love story that's hard to forget.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A superb debut ... Winn stages excellent action scenes ... but it is the men's love for each other that resonates. This is a remarkable achievement.

Author Blurb Hanna Jameson, author of The Last
A central relationship so utterly convincing that it will leave you bereft. Visceral, heartbreaking but full of heart, this is a masterpiece of war literature.

Author Blurb Joanna Quinn, author of The Whalebone Theatre
In Memoriam is a gripping and unsentimental love story that brings the First World War to life in a vividly new way. Alice Winn is a truly skilful writer, depicting her main characters, Gaunt and Ellwood, and the many layers of their relationship, beautifully, with real care and insight. She is unsparing in her depiction of the conflict in which they find themselves—powerfully evoking both the horrors of trench warfare and the devastating impact it had on those involved. She also brilliantly explores how the English public school system, with its casual brutalities and glorification of battle, was irrevocably intertwined with the war. An unforgettable novel, one I stayed up all night to finish, with characters I loved almost as much as they loved each other.

Author Blurb Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians
In Memoriam is magnificent—dazzling and wrenching, witty and wildly romantic, with echoes of Brideshead Revisited and Atonement. I loved it.

Author Blurb Lucy Atkins, author of Magpie Lane
An astonishingly confident and impressive debut, this love story set in the First World War is shocking, brutal, and memorable. It left me shaken—and very impressed.

Author Blurb Maggie O'Farrell, author of The Marriage Portrait
It's hard to believe that In Memoriam is a debut novel as it's so assured, affecting and moving. Alice Winn has written a devastating love story between two young men that moves from the sheltered idyll of their public school to the unspeakable horrors of the Western Front during the First World War. Gaunt and Ellwood will live in your mind long after you've closed the final pages.

Author Blurb Nikki Smith, author of All In Her Head
A searing and harrowing novel about the love story between two young men played out against a backdrop of the horrors of World War I. The writing was so visceral and intense, I honestly felt as if I was in the trenches with them, and I'm still thinking about the book weeks after reading it. An incredible debut.

Reader Reviews

Dhananjay paralkar

A Heartfelt Journey of Loss and Healing
"In Memoriam" is a touching and emotionally stirring book that guides readers on a sincere journey through loss experiences and the remarkable healing process. This book masterfully depicts the universal themes of mourning, recollection, and finding ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

In Memoriam A.H.H. by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson In Alice Winn's brilliant World War I novel, In Memoriam, the main characters often quote poetry by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). Among others cited is one of his best-known works: In Memoriam A.H.H.

The subject of the poem is Arthur Henry Hallam, whom Tennyson met at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1829. The two young men were members of The Apostles, a secret society that met to debate philosophical, political and literary topics, and it was there that they formed a close friendship. Hallam was frequently invited to stay with the Tennyson family at their house in Somersby, Lincolnshire, and during Easter vacation in 1930 Hallam proposed marriage to Tennyson's sister, Emilia (familiarly known as Emily), which she accepted.


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