Tristan Sadler is returning some letters to the sister of a man he loved while wanting to tell her the real truth of his seeking her out. World War I recently ended and veteran Tristan Sadler is on a train from London sitting across from an elderly lady who talks about the murders she committed. Tristan's reaction seems strange until it becomes apparent that the woman is an author and referring to characters she's killed in her novels. Tristan, who now works for a publisher, is actually a fan of her writing, but then they soon depart and he heads to rent a room in Norwich. We don't know why he's there, but the landlady makes him leave for a while in order to get the room prepared, but she is flustered and it soon becomes apparent that something happened in the room that she didn't want exposed.
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The reason Tristan went to Norwich is to meet the sister of his war buddy, Will Bancroft, to deliver letters to her that Will had written but not sent. As it turns out, Will Bancroft is the Absolutist, or conscientious objector to the war. Often, what happens to those soldiers who are against the war is that they are killed by those on their own side--something to consider when reading this summary. Besides being an absolutist, Will is also gay, as is Tristan, whose family disowned him because of his homosexuality.
The war took its toll on the men, and the author shares details of what it must have been like to gruesome believability. However, it is when Tristan and Will meet in the trenches of France that we see there is more than comradery between the men, even though Will does not want to accept the fact that he is attracted to men. This confuses Tristan after the two men escape the camp for a while and physically express their feelings toward each other. Tristan shares these details with Will's sister upon delivering the letters to her and she becomes angry with the knowledge and leaves.
Years later, Tristan still struggles with who he is as a gay man. He knows that it is considered something heinous and, as it turns out, all those years earlier when he went to Norwich to rent the room, the reason the landlady was acting so strange and made him leave so she could get the room ready for him, was because she was abhorred to discover two men making love in it and felt it ruined her business. She had her son thoroughly clean it as if someone had been murdered there. Situations like these were a reminder to Tristan that most weren't ready to accept who he was. It was a life-long burden he carried, as well as what he witnessed and did during the war. However, as an elderly man he has become a respected author. While he is getting an award, Will's sister shows up and the reader is stunned by the shocking revelation. (I had to read it twice to gather what Tristan was admitting.)
Best part of story, including ending:
I found it fascinating the way the author provided hints without spelling out so many of the situations. It wasn't a mystery, but some of the details were mysterious to me.
Best scene in story:
I liked the scene in the rooming house when the landlady's son implies to Tristan about why his mother is so appalled about what happened in the room Tristan is about to rent.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that Tristan showed what it meant to struggle with who he was and found the burden he carried to be a lifelong sentence--and I am not referring to his homosexuality.