So Well Remembered by James Hilton originally published in 1945
Most famous for his mystically romantic novels (and their subsequent movies) Lost Horizon and Random Harvest, author James Hilton writes of life more pragmatically in the novel So Well Remembered, his look at England from the end of WWI through WWII.
Hilton drops you into a small depressed mill town and uses a few local characters to explore how England saw itself during that time, how it was changing and how it planned to face its second post-war rebuilding effort in only three decades.
As in all Hilton novels, though, the characters drive the story. In So Well Remembered, he introduces us to George Boswell, a man of modest upbringing with youthful ambitions of an Oxford education and a role in national politics, but circumstances force him to settle for a life of self education and positions in local government.
Boswell comes to see his life's work as bettering the small town he grew up in, which represents the many similar small towns and villages of England, of that era, that were populated by working and middle-class men and women.
Boswell's well-ordered life would not be worthy of a novel if he hadn't married Lavia, the enigmatic daughter of the town’s now-disgraced former mill owner. If George is staid and proper working/middle-class England, Livia represents the decline of the once respected ruling class.
Yet George and Livia are not merely symbols as they come alive in Hilton's hands. George is a kind man who wins his local political arguments by persistence combined with compromise, wrapped inside a sense of morality; whereas, Livia is obdurate and tribalistic - if it's good for her or those she cares about, she wants it, whatever the cost to others.
After a tragedy ends their brief marriage, George stays on in his hometown doing the pragmatic work of making it a better place to live. Livia disappears for most of the middle of the novel only to reappear toward the end during WWII.
An accidental meeting between George and Livia's adult son, a severely wounded RAF pilot, brings Livia back into George's life. We learn that Livia's life hasn't been uneventful as, after marrying the second son of a Lord (meaning her husband won't inherit the title), Livia faced a real-life version of the trolley problem (how do you choose whom to let die when your only options are to let one or another group of people be killed).
Her harsh no-apologies response, followed by the upheaval of the war throws an even more enigmatic and hardened Livia back into George's life where George, Livia and the wounded son represent different approaches to England's post-war future.
So Well Remembered is a journey, not a destination book. Hilton ambles along showing you England in the interwar years through the life of George Boswell's provincial village, while bringing up small and large national and philosophical issues almost randomly.
Hilton also, as always, creates complex and believable characters, while drawing you into a beautifully-limned time and place. However, lacking a well-defined plot, you will either enjoy just experiencing life in England at this time or be frustrated that there isn't "more" to the story.
For new-to-Hilton readers, the suggestion would be to read Lost Horizon and/or Random Harvest first to see if his style and approach are to your liking. If those books deeply resonate with you, then So Well Remembered will probably be an enjoyable journey. If you only kinda like those novels for their mystic and romantic stories, then So Well Remembered will probably disappoint.