There are books without end on the American Civil War, both fiction and non-fiction, but very few of those focus on the women who fought, who defied the gender norms of their day, disguised themselves and went to fight for their country. Ash Thompson, known in another life as Constance, is one of those – leaving behind her husband and her farm to fight in the Union Army, she confronts horrors and the reality of war unflinchingly.
Laird Hunt has a very lyrical style, one I can only describe as a kind of rustic elegance. Constance’s voice is not polished or eloquent, but she has a particular view of the world which somehow cuts right to the heart of things. Her story unfolds slowly through this book, not just her experience in war but her past and her childhood – finally realising the significance of her pseudonym chilled me to the bone.
Every page of this book reminded me of Cold Mountain – the style and the tone as much as the plot of a weary soldier wending his/her way home through a confused and uprooted landscape, populated by larger-than-life characters. And I think, like that title, this may be the kind of book I need to read more than once to fully appreciate. There are layers and a depth to it that you only really scratch the surface of on the first read. I can’t say I loved it, but then I didn’t love Cold Mountain the first time I read it and it has since become one of my favourite books.