Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.
Testament of Youth is the first part of Vera Brittain's autobiography that was first published in 1933 and covers her years from 1900 (from the age of 7) to 1925 (age 32). It is an incredible book, so much so I don't honestly know where to begin. I've actually been putting off writing this review because of that - all I feel I can say is just how very good it is!
I think one of the reasons I found it so impressive is because it encapsulated the effect of the First World War on the average British person. At the start Vera Brittain was planning to go to Oxford University despite feeling the pressures many young women felt in the Edwardian era that she must find herself a husband and live a 'proper' life as a wife. At the end of the book, her brother, her fiance, and several of her friends were dead and she, along with the rest of the country, was coming to terms with what had happened to her country, her family and friends, her hopes and ambitions, and her life. The contrast between the beginning and end is stark and in Testament of Youth we see the emotional and physical upheaval of war. It is, for that alone, a supremely forceful book.
On top of that, the writing. It is so very well-written with an air of intimacy, there's a feeling that in reading it Vera Brittain is addressing the individual reader directly, confiding in them almost. It's heartbreaking but not sentimental and it's thorough but not excessive. It's highly informative and I learned a great deal about the daily life of a volunteer nurse (she worked in England as well as France and Malta). There's also enough literary references to keep even the biggest book nerd happy! It really is an outstanding work and it gives an excellent account of what is now referred to as the Lost Generation, but for now it was too great for me to take in properly. In short, if you have the book or can get the book, stop everything and read it / buy it and read it. I will without a doubt be re-reading it myself in the not so distant future.