At first it was the summers I remembered, long warm days under the palest blue skies, the cornflowers and irises and forget-me-nots lining the road through the Lys forest, the buzz of insects going about their work, Violet telling me lies. He loves you, he loves you not, she’d recite, skipping along the road until all the petals were gone. She’d finish with he loves you” no matter what the flower told her. I’d seen her cheat like that. Violet showed me an iris and told me what it was. Beautiful like you, she said. She couldn’t believe I’d never seen one. They’re common as weeds, she said. No offence. None taken.
But now in my mind’s eye, it’s winter, that first winter we arrived, Miss Ivens and me alighting from the train in Viarmes, the darkness descending, no one to meet us. And there’s Miss Ivens herself, charging ahead to walk, not a thought for our luggage, abandoned on the station platform when we’d failed to rouse the porter. Where’s Monsieur Bousier?” Miss Ivens said, as if I might know. I shrugged but she’d already moved off down the hill at a cracking paceeven with my long stride I could barely match herturning back to me every now and then, those large straight teeth somehow adding to my trepidation, all the better to eat you with going through my head. What was I doing? I’d boarded a train with a perfect stranger. I’d listened to her story for an hour from Paris and now I was following her to a place called Royaumont. Better to walk at any rate,” Miss Ivens said. Nothing like seeing it on foot,” turning back to smile, the world, I mean,” and then she was off again.
You should know that you and I and the rest are at the beginning of something momentous,” she’d said on the train, a curl of her dark hair slipped from its moorings and dangling between her eyes. It’s going to be grand,” she insisted, reading something in my face that suggested I disagreed. I’d been assigned to the British Casualty Clearing Station in Soissons, close to Amiens where we thought Tom had gone. A Sergeant Fleming would be there to meet my train unless Matron had sent word, and no one sent word of anything in these strange days, not as far as I could tell. I’d signed up in London with the Red Cross and already, I’d had orders changed, waiting those three days in Paris, I assumed because of a change in the fighting. And then I’d happened upon Miss Ivens and everything changed again.
I was just what she needed, Miss Ivens said. She smiled so quickly I almost missed it. Her French wasn’t the best, she said, book-learned, she could write but no one understood her spoken word, and no one else at Royaumont had time. You’ll be my shadow,” she said, my voice. Just what I need. I can’t believe our good fortune. There’s a little work to be done at the abbey, of course,” dismissing it like a fly with a flick of her wrist. The building’s not quite ready. It’s rather old,” making shapes with her hands, collapsing them into her lap. I need someone who understands the language and can liaise with the tradesmen, someone with common sense. I believe that’s you.” If I was silent, she never noticed, just kept on talking, more to herself really, setting out on her fingers the work she wanted to do that night, the supplies they’d need to order before Christmas, the long list of people to meet the next day. I listened.
And then Viarmes itse
Praise for In Falling Snow:
"In her sweeping American debut, Mary-Rose MacColl creates a beautifully by the choice to follow her brother across continents into France. An epic tale of love, heartache, and a sisterhood created by nursing in a time of war, In Falling Snow is one of those novels you will want to read again. If you liked The Aviator’s Wife, you will love this book!"—Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Cleopatra’s Daughter
“This is a story of love, ultimately, and a woman whose life has sought to atone for a mistake she hardly knew she made. Caught between the past and her impending mortality, Iris relives her life as a nurse in WWI, when she was too young to understand what her choices would mean not only for her, but for the family she cobbled together out of the rubble. At once perceptive and sympathetic, In Falling Snow beguiles, a tale of selflessness and youthful indiscretion as singular and seductive as one could hope for.”—Robin Oliveira, New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter
“A thoroughly absorbing time-switching tale that gives a fascinating insight into one of the little-known stories of the Great War, that of the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont Abbey on the Western Front. Mary-Rose MacColl brings the courageous women of Royaumont to vivid life as we follow their joys and sorrows, and discover secrets that will affect their families for generations to come.”—Lucinda Riley, author of internationally bestselling The Orchid House
"In Falling Snow is expertly researched and written with a keen eye to the complexities of wartime and the mighty role of women therein. From past to present, Australia to France, MacColl guides readers through unknown lands abroad and territories of the heart. For readers, like me, who love to see history’s forgotten heroes given powerful voice, you will delight in this novel."—Sarah McCoy, author of the international bestseller The Baker’s Daughter
“At once chilling yet strangely beautiful. The book touches on the contributions made by a group of pioneering women who succeed despite society’s bias toward their gender; the strong friendships that develop, particularly between Iris and ambulance driver Violet Heron; Iris' increasing love for medicine and her involvement with a man she meets during the war; the men and boys whose lives are sacrificed for a cause many of them don’t identify with or understand; and the far-reaching effects of the war on the generations that follow… MacColl’s narrative is fortified by impeccable research and her innate ability to create a powerful bond between readers and characters. Well done.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"In Falling Snow is a moving story about women's roles and the challenging decisions they face as mothers, nurses, doctors and leaders. MacColl brings to light the forgotten histories of the women of Royaumont hospital with engaging prose. The lives of Iris and Grace are divided by several decades, but their career ambitions and the sacrifices they face are universal."—Suzanne Desrochers, author of Bride of New France
“Well-crafted…easily slipping through time.”—Publishers Weekly
“This satisfying saga from an award-winning Australian author takes the reader across continents and time….Women as healers, family secrets, medical mysteries, historical setting—call the producers of Call the Midwife.”—Booklist