(Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2015)
Adult fiction pick by Jean-Louis
Louis de Bernières is a master of the historical novel. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is an absolutely magnificent novel set on the Greek island of Sephalonia as it is occupied by Italian soldiers during WW11. In his current novel, de Bernières sets the novel in the countryside outside of London during and immediately following WW1. The characters of the novel grew up together leading up to the war and the book follows the war’s effects upon the whole cast.
The McCosh family are the hub of the story: Mr. McCosh is an inventor, businessman, and a golf fanatic, his wife is an eccentric snob and regular correspondent to members of the royal family, and the four daughters Rosie, Ottilie, Christabel, and Sophie round out the group. Next door live the Pendennis family (with three boys–Sidney, Albert, and Ashbridge) and opposite them the Pitt family (with brothers Archie and Daniel). And of course, since we are in Edwardian times, there are also a smattering of servants (though many fewer than in Victorian times). The novel has a large cast much like that of Downton Abbey, with intrigues playing out both upstairs and downstairs.
The intrusion of war sends the entire world into turmoil and it is not long before circumstance, death, and the destruction of war impinge on the lives of all involved. Loves and losses are the chief emotions which de Bernières traces through the book. Rosie McCosh is at the center of much of the drama and around her orbit great loves, losses, strategies for carrying on, and new starts. It seems the whole world is in love with Miss McCosh and she has to find a way to steer through the maelstrom of emotions for all involved.
While it is set during a time of war, the novel does have a gentleness to it and maintains an element of the wacky village dram about it. The novel is told in many short chapters which allow for quick excursions into the lives and loves of many many characters.