In brief: Evelyn desperately wants to be a doctor, but her father won’t let her. So she becomes a nurse, and travels to Egypt after World War I starts. There, she falls in love reluctantly – but does this mean letting go of her dream career?
The good: It combines the horrors of war with the beauty of falling in love in a fascinating, adventure-packed story.
The not-so-good: When it finished! I miss the characters already.
Why I chose it: I never, ever miss a Pamela Hart novel. Thanks Hachette for the copy.
Setting: Australia and Egypt
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pamela Hart’s novels are a fail-safe read for me. I simply know that they will be interesting with strong female characters and a happy ending. Naturally, The Desert Nurse was a great read for me.
The central character in The Desert Nurse is Evelyn Northey. Evelyn is desperate to become a doctor, but her father (also a doctor) is vehemently against it. Her role is to get married and have children – oh, and work for him as an unpaid nurse. Evelyn has money in a trust which would fund her studies, but her father refuses to release it. So Evelyn becomes a nurse while waiting to turn thirty to access her money. When World War I begins, she sees it as a way to escape her father, learn and earn money. Evelyn is shipped off to Egypt where she will learn a lot more than she expected. She also comes into contact with Dr William Brent, who did her army physical. He is a polio survivor, who wasn’t accepted into the army due to the residual effects on his leg. But William is made of sterner stuff, and takes off the Egypt where (as he correctly surmised) they need doctors, no matter where they came from. William and Evelyn make a good team, but neither wanted to fall in love. Evelyn has her future career to think about, while William is convinced that he’s a bad bet, unworthy of love. Can they overcome their fears?
I really enjoy the period that Pamela writes in (around the time of World War I) because I learn things too. This time I found out about Heliopolis Palace, a grand hotel turned into a hospital in Egypt for the Australian Army. (Google it – it’s 100% true). The scenes where the wounded keep rolling in and even the next door amusement park becomes a hospital (complete with operating theatre) are richly detailed. It’s not gory, but matter of fact as the staff do their best with what they have. As Evelyn and William move through different areas and types of hospitals/casualty clearing stations, I got a taste of what life was like on the front line where there wasn’t time to do things delicately or even complete a procedure. It’s an example of war being one dirty great machine that worked well when it came to casualties. You might think stories of wounds and operations would get a bit boring after some time, but it doesn’t. The plot has been carefully planned, entwining the processes of war with the developing relationship between William and Evelyn. Evelyn’s friendship with fellow nurse Hannah is also a key part to the story and a link to A Letter From Italy, through Rebecca’s brother Linus. The finale was also great where Evelyn challenges her inheritance. In the midst of war, I’d forgotten all about it! Evelyn’s fight is a reminder of how far women’s rights have come in just over a century. Can you imagine a woman not being able to access what it rightfully hers today? It simply wouldn’t be allowed to happen.
Overall, The Desert Nurse has it all – memorable characters, exotic settings, gripping plot and a modern love story. It’s both uplifting and a sober reminder of the horrors of war.