Title: Love and Other Battles
Author: Tess Woods
Published: June 17th 2019
Publisher: Harper Collins – AU
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Three generations of women. Three heartbreaking choices. One unforgettable story.
1969: Free-spirited hippie Jess James has no intention of falling for a soldier … but perhaps some things are not in our power to stop.
1989: Jess’s daughter, Jamie, dreams of a simple life – marriage, children, stability – then she meets a struggling musician and suddenly the future becomes wilder and complex.
2017: When Jamie’s daughter, CJ, brings home trouble in the form of the coolest boy at school, the worlds of these three women turn upside down … and the past returns to haunt them.
Spanning the trauma of the Vietnam War to the bright lights of Nashville, the epidemic of teenage self-harm to the tragedy of incurable illness, Love and Other Battles is the heart-wrenching story of three generations of Australian women, who learn that true love is not always where you seek it.
If you loved The Notebook, this is a novel for you.
‘We’ve all made mistakes , especially when we’re in love.’
Love and indeed life is a battlefield, to quote one of my favourite 1980s songs by Pat Benatar. I felt like this song could easily be an anthem for the new and compelling inter- generational novel, penned by Tess Woods. Love and Other Battles, the third book from contemporary fiction novelist Tess Woods, gave me goosebumps, made me shiver and it had me nodding my head in deep understanding of the issues that are stake within the pages of this astounding novel.
There are three conclusive threads and three strong female characters that draw together the lines of Love and Other Battles. Beginning with Jess in the late 1960s, we watch on as free spirited Jess falls deeply in love with a soldier, heading off to the Vietnam War. We are then led down Jamie’s path, a young woman living in the year 1989, who longs for a family with her long standing boyfriend, a budding musician. Although Jamie doesn’t quite get what she wished for, this man changes her life forever. Then, travelling to the present day, the reader is introduced to CJ, a teenager who just wants to be cool and popular. CJ’s quest of acceptance lands her in hot water. All three women find their lives are inexplicably linked when the past, a long held secret and the future all collide. Love and Other Battles is about the scars we bear as women and lovers.
I was recently blessed with the opportunity to listen to Tess Woods, the author of Love and Other Battles, speak about her latest book at a local author event. It gave me an excellent insight into the whole writing process. Tess Woods is an author who truly devotes her entire being to her book, which we are also made aware of from her ‘Acknowledgements’ page and dedication. I do know Tess Woods had a desire to produce a novel like her much loved favourite, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, and she was also inspired to take on the challenge of writing a multi generational saga. This is a shift away from her work as a contemporary fiction novelist, but it demonstrates her full worth and commitment as a writer dedicated to building on her craft.
It may have been quite a challenge to bring this generational based novel to fruition, but I am so glad Tess was able to overcome any doubt she may have had in branching out into this style of novel. Love and Other Battles really showcases her ability as a writer. The way in which the book gently switches, along with the setting and timeline changes which are never abrupt, ensures that we remain fully committed to all the characters in this novel. I immediately gravitated towards Jamie, being of a similar age and in a similar line of work. However, I could just as easily understand and sympathise with teenage aged CJ, along with her grandmother Jess. I feel that this is entirely down to the commitment and craftsmanship Tess has dedicated to sculpting her characters. At every point Tess has made sure that we have a deep and full understanding of each character’s movements.
By far my favourite aspect of Love and Other Battles was the 1969, Vietnam War based narrative. Like Tess felt in the beginning of the process she undertook to form her novel, I feel like I possess a significant gap in knowledge in regards to the Australian experience of the Vietnam War. This novel worked to build my knowledge and understanding, especially emotions wise of those sent away and those left behind. The inclusion of the letters back and forth to ‘War Flower’ were so touching, as well as illuminating. I wanted more!
There are light, but also dark and essential elements to this novel that I feel really elevates Tess Woods to a writer who is a clear figurehead and spokeswoman of our times. Tess does not shy away from the hard topics. Within her novel and events that conspire around CJ, our present day focal character, we glean a great deal about the sheer range of current issues that plague our teenage population. Although I do not have teenage children myself, it truly made me afraid, but also critically aware of the very real issues our young people must face. No longer are they shielded from public scorn when they make a simple mistake. Unfortunately, any errors of judgement by our young people are now played out in the public sphere – for all to criticise, comment on and ridicule. It is a hard world we live in, and Tess Woods goes far and wide to bring these issues to our collective consciousness.
As love is in the title of this book, it is a focal point. Tess Woods takes a no-holds-back point of view in her focus on love. She opens up the contrast from first love elation and joy, through to the crashing low moments of heartbreak. In dealing with this subject matter, Woods incorporates a thoughtful examination into ageing, terminal illness, medicinal drug use, domestic abuse and self harm. Tess goes to great lengths to ensure her treatment of these areas of contention are valid, respectful and informed. I need to stress that although there is a serious tone to the novel as a whole, there are plenty of moments where the light shines bright in Love and Other Battles.
So, thank you Tess, for the beauty and gift of Love and Other Battles, a novel that is a here and now ode – with impact. This novel goes such a long way in reflecting the life and times of Australian women and the battles that they continue to fight for today, in the past and in the future.
On a final note, I must check out this Nashville series that is subtly referred to within in the novel. And, I am so pleased you finally got to keep your royal references Tess, I loved it!
Love and Other Battles by Tess Woods was published on 17th June 2019 by Harper Collins – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Love and Other Battles, Tess Woods, visit here.
*I wish to thank Harper Collins Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Love and Other Battles is book #95 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge