Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

Title: In Falling Snow

Author: Mary-Rose MacColl

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2012

Synopsis: ‘In the beginning, it was the summers I remembered – long warm days under the palest blue skies, the cornflowers and forget-me-nots lining the road through the Lys forest, the buzz of insects going about their work, Violet telling me lies.’ Iris is getting old. A widow, her days are spent living quietly and worrying about her granddaughter, Grace, a headstrong young doctor. It’s a small sort of life. But one day an invitation comes for Iris through the post to a reunion in France, where she served in a hospital during WWI. Determined to go, Iris is overcome by the memories of the past, when as a shy, naive young woman she followed her fifteen-year-old brother, Tom, to France in 1914 intending to bring him home. On her way to find Tom, Iris comes across the charismatic Miss Ivens, who is setting up a field hospital in the old abbey of Royaumont, north of Paris. Putting her fears aside, Iris decides to stay at Royaumont, and it is there that she truly comes of age, finding her capability and her strength, discovering her passion for medicine, making friends with the vivacious Violet and falling in love. But war is a brutal thing, and when the ultimate tragedy happens, there is a terrible price that Iris has to pay, a price that will echo down the generations. Read an extract

Status: Read from November 06 to 07, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy TheReadingRoom/Allen&Unwin}

My Thoughts:

In this captivating novel, Australian author Mary-Rose MacColl moves between the past and the present, from Australia to war torn France to create a compelling story of love, loss, friendship, family and dreams.

When Iris Crane receives an invitation to a ceremony honouring les dames ecossais de Royaumont she is forced to confront the events of sixty years ago. At twenty one, Iris followed her younger brother to war in Europe, determined to bring him home, but instead remained in France to serve at Royaumont, a field hospital established in an Abbey on the outskirts of Paris, staffed exclusively by women. Despite the horrors of war, Royaumont became home for Iris. She befriended a remarkable group of women including the spirited Violet Heron, discovered a talent for medicine and fell in love. Yet just three years later, Iris left Royaumont and never looked back.

I was immediately drawn to Iris, an old woman in failing health, who is remembering both the best and worst moments of her long life. As she drifts between the present and past she relates a full life of adventure, love, heartbreak and tragedy. From a motherless child on her father’s farm, to a young nurse in the midst of World War 1 combat in France and then to her role as a wife, widow, mother, grandmother and great grandmother in Brisbane’s suburbs, Iris reveals long held secrets and lingering regrets.

A mother of three and a obstetrician at a major hospital, Grace is struggling with her grandmother’s decline as she tries to juggle the demands of work and family. Caught up in her own personal drama including being the target of a complaint and her growing concern about the health of her youngest son, Rose is dismissive of Iris’s desire to attend the reunion at Royaumont. Despite being raised from birth by Iris, Grace is unaware of most of her grandmother’s incredible past and is stunned by what she discovers when she honours Iris’s last wish. There were times when I felt Grace’s complications distracted from Iris’s story somewhat but I also appreciated that MacColl ensured Grace was a well developed character.

MacColl develops interesting comparisons between the lives of Iris and Grace as she switches between narrative voices, exploring society’s shifting perspectives of issues such as gender roles, motherhood, age expectations and health care. The author draws attention to the extraordinary changes in social attitudes that have affected women in particular during the past century, as well as the shameful instances where little has changed at all. MacColl also highlights the way in which the devastating toll of the first world war impacted on the generations that followed.

I was engrossed in both women’s stories but I must admit I was especially fascinated by Iris’s experiences at Royaumont. The Author’s Notes reveal that In Falling Snow is inspired by the real life role of the Royaumont during World War 1 and though MacColl admits the story contains some historical inaccuracies for the purposes of fiction, she has tried to honour the incredible spirit of the women who served as surgeons, doctors, orderlies, nurses and drivers in the all woman military hospital that treated the casualties of war. I was absolutely fascinated by this aspect of the novel, enthralled by the courage and determination of the women who challenged society’s expectations of them and MacColl’s portrayal of life in the Abbey during an extraordinary time.

Royaumont almost becomes a character in its’ own right. I was easily able to imagine the staff of Abbey working hard to prepare the space for the wounded as MacColl described but the scale of the challenge, and the incredible achievement of The Scottish Women’s Auxiliary really only became obvious when I viewed the photographs online of the astonishing echoing rooms and vaulted ceilings.

I found In Falling Snow a wonderfully engaging tale, so caught up in life at Royaumont I regretted putting it down to attend to the mundane tasks of everyday life. I would recommend this novel particularly to participants of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, but I also feel it would be widely enjoyed by readers who find the synopsis appealing.

Available to Purchase

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via Booko

US Release by Penguin expected in 2013

17 thoughts on “Review: In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

  1. I’ve seen this one around but this is the first review I read about it. Loved reading your great review and I will now look for this book when it comes out. I love stories about characters with rich past experiences.


  2. MacColl had me at “pants puddled around their ankles” (page one). Much like seeing a five star movie – totally taken into the story and when emerging back into the light of reality – perceiving it altered. The last page turned and I was proud of women, more learned in history, heart-raw about war, ribboned by romance, conscious of consequences and outsmarted by the twist. A smartly executed tale that sucked me into its non-stopping pages on an international flight. Bravo Mary-Rose MacColl!


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