In Falling Snow sat on my desk unread for a couple of months until I finally got to it last week. What a treat it has been to read such a powerful and beautifully written book, based on the fascinating true story of the Scottish Women Doctors who ran hospitals in France and Serbia during WW1.
MacColl’s story open with Iris, a frail aging woman, who knows she will soon be at the end of her life. An invitation arrives inviting her to Royaumont in northern France where they are laying a plaque to commemorate the service of the Scottish Women of Royaumont. It is sixty years since the war ended.
In 1914 Iris went to France to bring home her 15-year-old brother Tom who had fled to fight in the war. On arrival in France she meets charismatic surgeon Frances Ivens who is setting up a hospital in the old abbey in Royaumont. Working with Ivens, Iris discovers her own skill and courage when faced with great adversity.
Thrown together to manage soldiers with horrific injuries, bonds are formed between the young women at the field hospital. Iris becomes friendly with fellow nurse Violet and they spend much of their leave together. Violet often comes along with Iris when she meets up with Tom. Iris, keen to keep a close eye on her brother, is relieved to discover that he is working in the postal service and not fighting on the front.
Back in present day, Iris is occupied with the life of her granddaughter Grace and her three young children. Rose, Grace’s mother, died in childbirth so she was raised by Iris and her husband Al. Like her grandmother, Grace developed a passion for medicine, practicing as an obstetrician.
Iris is clearly unsettled by her invitation to Royaumont leading Grace to fear that there is something more sinister than just seeing old friends. She agrees to travel to France with Iris to attend the reunion. Perhaps the break will provide some much needed respite for Grace.
Life is frantic for Grace, managing her three children in addition to her career is not easy. Her husband, David, is also a doctor and both have heavy schedules which makes raising a family of three young children a marathon event.
Grace has her own demons to fight, she has made an oversight when diagnosing one of her patients which has led to the death of a newborn and her only son is showing signs of ill health. Whilst Iris grapples with the past, Grace undergoes an internal investigation into her actions during the delivery of a deceased newborn. She must also come to terms with her son’s ailing condition.
The trip to Royaumont goes ahead in unexpected circumstances with long held secrets revealed.
MacColl delves into the devastating affect that war can have on personal lives; the aspirations that are sacrificed in the name of love and duty. It is a riveting book set partially in Brisbane, where Grace and Iris live in present day, and in northern France during WW1.
In Falling Snow is a fascinating story of a group of young naive women who rise to the challenge of war with courage and strength. An absolute gem of a book.
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