*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Into that Fire
Author: MJ Cates
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Imogen Lang’s only friend and confidant at medical school in Chicago is lanky poet Quentin Goodchild, but he wants more than friendship. Unlike most other well-brought-up young women in 1916, Imogen does not want to be a wife. Instead she wants to find a cure for madness. Shattered by her rejection, Quentin heads to Canada where he signs up to fight in the trenches in France, hoping to be killed. While he encounters unspeakable horrors in battle, Imogen faces her own struggles, against the sexism that constrains her and the barbaric practices that are the accepted treatments for the mentally ill. When she hears that Quentin has been killed in France, she falls into a bleak depression that increases her empathy for her patients but also sets her on a collision course with the powers-that-be. And eventually to a realization of what Quentin means to her.
I don’t stray into this historical fiction realm too often, but I’m glad I did with Into That Fire. Although it’s not in my top books of 2020, it is a refreshing and captivating read, based in a time that I do thoroughly enjoy: the early 20th-Century. Imogen Lang is a fascinating character. She is a modern woman for the time: driven, career-oriented, medical doctor, interested in the sciences. Despite her passion, her status as a woman often means that she is not respected or not taken seriously, so each battle she faces in her career is an uphill climb. This book brings to light the struggles that many women of the time, and yet still today, faced as they chose to focus on their careers rather than motherhood: disrespect, lower pay, increased barriers to success. Imogen’s story is nearly as relevant to women today as it would have hypothetically been for an audience of her own (fictional) time.
The writing in this novel is beautiful and vivid. I have a 5 month old at home and it was easy to pick this up and return to it after many a distraction and long bouts of absence. The story is light and easy to follow. It offers a welcome distraction from the dreary winter days of this Canadian winter. The world that Cates has built is easily relatable and is refreshing. Lang exists in a world of science and psychiatry, which from her feminine point of view, is a fresh perspective for a fictional narrative. I haven’t read anything quite like this in a while and it was a joy to have something different in my hands.
One thing I will say for this story is that the romance aspect of it is hardly surprising. It’s very clear throughout how Imogen’s romantic story will end. I struggled a lot with the about-face that her husband does in terms of supporting her and her career. His drastic shift and his obscure motivations turn him into more of a character than anything else. However, the unsung hero, Quentin, is incredibly sweet and endearing, although his part in this novel is not as front and centre.
Overall, this was definitely worth the read. It’s the perfect book to curl up with next to the fire with a big mug of tea (my favourite winter activity, if you didn’t already know that).