Literature, like every art form or medium, goes through phases. From the organization of a story to the cover art on the front, the market and its popular trends tends to influence its shape. While that’s not always the case, the flood of cartooned covers on adult trade books says differently. The more those covers speak to us, the more they make. And so on and so forth is the relationship between market powers and today’s literary patterns.
Another one of those potential patterns is single or multiple perspective stories. Through TikTok and various other mediums, a slew of single perspective stories are being purchased in unprecedented records. Colleen Hoover and Taylor Jenkins Reid are just two of the authors leading the so-called battle for the single perspective novel. In fact, both authors have nearly squatted on the New York Times bestsellers list as a result for over a month.
All of that being said, the book that is the subject today defies both of these patterns. The Woman at the Front by Lecia Cornwall does not have a cartoon cover or is single perspective. While some people may point out that Cornwall’s book was published in 2021, and therefore did not have a chance to follow such patterns, Anxious People by Frederik Backman was published in 2019 and had a cartoon cover and Beach Read was released in 2020 and is a single point-of-view premise. It takes some time for patterns to build into the buying-and-selling habits of the everyday reader. One change at a time in the editors office, to the design team, and how it’s marketed. So while this is all going on, Cornwall’s book is still taken on by an agent, bought by a publishing house, and sold to the reader without any of the proven hinges of what makes a book successful in today’s market.
That being said, I do believe that this title has everything it already needs to be a popular choice for readers. There’s romance, an unyielding feminine strength, drama, fear—as the backdrop for this story is the frontlines of World War I—, family, and what I think many single perspectives are missing: context. Through this weave of eye-lines, readers see Dr. Eleanor Atherton. Graduating from the top of her class, Eleanor is struggling to find ways to put her education to use in the country side of England. Her father, a doctor in his own right, thinks the medical profession is no place for a woman. But he, himself taught Eleanor the beauty of healing. Her mother wishes she’d marry the man she lined-up for her. And her twin brother thinks their family’s rank and status is beneath him. Through a variety of unforeseen and unplanned circumstances, most of which I won’t reveal in an effort to prevent spoiling the story, Eleanor finds herself in the front lines trying to make herself as useful as possible.
While she’s fighting against prejudices and egos of the men around her, she can’t help but do something when there’s already a lot of nothing being offered to the injured and scared men from the trenches. Through the multiple perspectives, readers get a first hand idea of what those prejudices are and how severe they make up the social jail bars of society. With every feet of Dr. Eleanor Atherton, readers witness the small cog turn in an angry old man’s head when his ideas start to shift. Woman at the Front showcases how social change occurs, even when it is as painstakingly slow as one brain at a time or as fast as one lifetime. It’s a positive reminder for many readers today that change can happen, will happen, and is only a matter of time in relation to one’s strength. While Cornwall’s book may have been published last year, I thoroughly recommend it for this summer.