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Category Archive for 'England'

Eric Vuillard’s latest prizewinner opens with the secret arrival of twenty-four wealthy industrialists at the Berlin palace of the President of the Assembly in 1933. When asked by Hermann Goering to donate to the Nazi cause, they do so without hesitation. The Nazi movement grows. Four years later, Hitler is on the verge of entering Austria and taking over. Surprising details emerge throughout this short work which shows how Hitler, an ordinary person with an unalterable goal, could affect the lives of so many other ordinary people through persuasion, fear, and raw power. Guilt, innocence, and ignorance get the full treatment here as Eric Vuillard brings life to the years leading up to the Second World War, and readers will be astonished by the breadth and depth of history which this author achieves within this very compressed work.

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Setting this novel in 1940, 1950, and 1981, with action that moves around within these different time frames, award-winning author Kate Atkinson writes a World War II novel about the Fifth Column and other British sympathizers of Fascism who lived in England during the years leading up to England’s entry into the war. Juliet Armstrong, only eighteen when she is recruited from her job at the BBC, becomes a transcriber of the conversations she overhears in a Dolphin Square apartment as a member of MI5 in 1940. By 1950, many of the characters she has worked with have gone elsewhere and she is back working for the BBC on a TV series when she gets a message, “You will pay for what you did.” In 1981, she is sixty years old, when she has an accident. Each of these sections deals with the themes of illusion and truth, though the 1940s section is, by far, the most vivid. Readers new to Atkinson might want to start with LIFE AFTER LIFE or A GOD IN RUINS to get the full flavor of her style and character development.

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In The Only Story, British author Julian Barnes returns to examine, once again, some of his most encompassing themes. As in his Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending, he writes a “character novel,” in which a main character examines his experiences with love, loss, memory, and time to try to ascertain a grander truth about life, something not affected by immediate emotions, the sentimental memories of the good times, or the tendency to see what one wants to see in the past. Here Barnes examines the intensity of a first love and its effects on main character Paul Roberts’s entire life, emphasizing that no matter what the outcome of such a love is – happy, sad, long-lasting, or brief – that its effects on a life are, in fact, ineradicable. This engrossing and expansive study of two very different characters, creates empathy for Paul as he deals with love’s complexities at the same time that the reader recognizes that Paul Roberts is not alone.

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Falling somewhere between a novel and a story collection, The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor continues a narrative which began with his earlier novel, Reservoir 13. Though both books revolve around the disappearance of Becky Shaw, here the author takes the reader inside the characters, all of whom are featured in their own chapters. Here they reveal their inner thoughts and memories, their fears, vulnerabilities, quirks, and even suggestions of past violence. Individualized in this way, these chapters create a sense of hidden danger and violence, raising new questions about what really happened to Becky Shaw, and forcing the reader to consider whether someone in the community has hidden knowledge of what happened to her. People who have read and liked the prize-winning Reservoir 13 will have an advantage in reading this book because of their familiarity with the community and many of its characters, but others will find this book so effectively written from a character and suspense standpoint that they may like it even better than that first novel (especially if they keep a character list). Dramatic, insightful, and effective, The Reservoir Tapes makes one wonder if another entry in a Reservoir series might be on its way.

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In a novel about the French intellectual elite who live confidently and proudly at the very margins of society in the early twentieth century, author Rupert Thomson explores the lives and loves of two women who live on their own terms at the very margin of social acceptance. Avant-garde in their personal beliefs throughout their lives, they become close friends when they first meet in 1909 when Lucie Schwob is fourteen and Suzanne Malherbe is seventeen. Suzanne and Lucie are actually aided in the development of their relationship when Lucie’s father and her institutionalized mother divorce, and he marries Suzanne’s widowed mother. Now stepsisters, the two can to be together all the time, without causing gossip. Traveling frequently between Nantes, Paris, and the island of Jersey, off the coast of France, for summer vacations, they explore their new lives “as sisters.” As they grow up, they become part of the avant-garde artists and philosophers in Paris, eventually being forced to leave for the Channel Islands as World War II breaks out. Following their story from 1920 to 1970, Rupert Thomson creates a fascinating story of two very unusual women.

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