I love these three authors and looked forward to reading their joint effort, All the Ways We Said Goodbye. While I enjoyed the multi-narrative-threaded novel, I prefer the Co. of Williams, Willig, & White seule over ensemble. There was so much here and not quite enough; the novel’s last quarter was stronger than its first half. Overall, a mixed-bag with a mixed response from me: bits I loved, characters I adored, and, in the best lingo from The Great British Bake-Off, a soggy middle (okay, “bottom” for them, but you get my drift).
All the Ways We Said Goodbye is ambitious, I’ll give it that. Three women, three stories, intertwined by war, betrayal, passion, love, and honour, the male protagonists following likewise in their wake. One narrative follows WWI-set Aurélie de Courcelles, the Demoiselle, whose family heirloom/talisman is a cloth seeped in the blood of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. Aurélie leaves her mother ensconced at the Paris Ritz and makes her way to the ancestral home, now behind enemy lines. She carries the talisman with her, legendary because as long the Demoiselle holds it, France cannot fall. Given that most of the Great War was fought on French soil, a symbol of French hope and pride. Aurélie finds her home occupied by some nasty German officers. She machinates to protect her people and finds herself embroiled with one kind, handsome German officer …
In the WWII-set narrative, Aurélie’s daughter, Daisy, continues the narrative of intrigue and spies and foiling of Nazis. We learn, sadly, that Aurélie died in the 1918 Spanish Influenza and Daisy was brought up by her grandmère, who continues to charm and thwart Nazis. Daisy is part of a vast network of French Resistance and works closely with a British officer, now behind enemy lines in Occupied France, Kit Langford. They fall in love and risk their lives, in tandem, to spirit Jewish families out of France. Then, a mysterious German officer appears, as he did for Aurélie …
In 1964, Kit Langford’s English-rose wife, now widow, Babs, crosses the Channel to France to meet with an American, Drew Bowdoin, whose father, elderly and dying in NYC, worked with Kit and Daisy during the war. Drew’s father believes himself betrayed by them. Babs has arrived in Paris at Drew’s request, but also to lay to rest a letter Kit received, that she never gave him, a letter from a woman named Daisy. Aurélie. Daisy. Babs. Three women, three narratives, and the three men who loved them. Lost to war, to the displacement, the dislocation war brings to personal, individual life.
Williams-Willig-White brought a wonderful sense of satisfying resolution to the three women’s lives. They don’t all have a sigh-worthy HEA, but their lives, beliefs, and sacrifices are vindicated. Overall, however, I can’t say I loved every moment of reading this. I thought the Aurélie thread was particularly weak (only Aurélie’s mother, a flamboyant, sharp-minded and -tongued American captured me). I never had a definitive sense of Aurélie, or her reasoning and actions. Daisy’s story was a modicum stronger: with a more vivid sense of an occupied Paris and a lovely closed-cabin romance with Kit. Babs, I loved: she was smart, self-effacing to a fault, but honest, ethical, wonderful in her ordinariness and I’m glad, out of all of them, that she had an HEA.
In the end, however, the novel was de trop and pas assez. W-W-&-W had three novels in them and compressed them into three novellas; and yet, because the premise was complicated and the character canvas expansive, getting the three narratives off the ground lumbered and dragged. I would be engrossed in one narrative only to be interrupted by another, grow impatient with the vague Aurélie only to be delighted by Babs and Drew … Not the finest effort, but still readable, atmospheric, and totally worth the effort for Drew and Babs. With Miss Austen, we agree All the Ways We Said Goodbye is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Williams, Willig, and White’s All the Ways We Said Goodbye is published by William Morrow. It was released on January 14 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-galley from William Morrow, via Edelweiss+.