Tag Archives: World War II

Dancing on the head of a pin

There is an old philosophical argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Some of the answers lie in the twelve-part chronicle of the twentieth century in Anthony Powell‘s series Dance to the Music of Time, itself an homage to Nicolas Poussin‘s painting of the same name in The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London.

spurling 1Now Hilary Spurling has brought out her biography of her great friend and mentor Anthony Powell, called unsurprisingly, Anthony Powell Dancing to the Music of Time.

There are other novels by Anthony Powell, as there are other books by Hilary Spurling. But this one is a marriage made in heaven, with plenteous angels dancing on pins.

Early on in her career, when she had only one book published, she was invited by AP to compile a sort of dictionary/encyclopaedia companion to Dance to the Music of Time which he had completed in 1975 with Hearing Secret Harmonies, the final volume of the series. This admirable little volume is called Invitation to the Dance, it is a handbook to the characters and situations found in the long series.spurling 2

Powell lived a typically literary life of the twentieth century, sometimes radically short of money and often hard pressed for the next payment; he had a wife, Violet and two children. Violet is described by a contemporary and friend as “the right-arm of Tony’s imagination”. This I suspect, exactly represents their long relationship and intense marriage. Violet, born of a great literary family herself, the Pakenhams, had a marvellous memory for the detail in the sequence, and was always the first reader of any of Anthony’s books; but this came into its own once he began the series, which was first of all to be a trilogy, but then extended almost by its own volition into a twelve volume sequence which took almost twenty five years to write, a new volume coming out at almost two yearly intervals.

The delight of this biography is that it puts names of real characters to their fictional avatars in The Dance. Some fall straight from life on to the page, others are a combination of characteristics drawn from life and combined in fiction and a few characters in The Dance are completely original.

In the three volumes that cover the war years, more characters fall straight from life into fiction and Anthony Powell had a nervous lunch with one of them when his commanding officer invited him to lunch; AP was expecting a dressing down and possibly a legal action, but to his relief the Colonel had mis-identified himself with another much more likeable and congenial military figure, actually based upon a Major in Anthony’s unit of the Welsh Regiment.

In this biography, we meet more literary giants than you can imagine.  The Powells were well connected through Violet’s family and had a web of literary friends through Anthony’s other work as a reviewer, variously for Punch and The Daily Telegraph and other papers and periodicals. So parties and country weekends seem to burst with talent:  Evelyn Waugh, Malcolm Muggeridge, T S Eliot, Philip Larkin, John Betjemen, Graham Greene and many others; not confined to the literary arts they were also friends with the painters Edward Burra, Edward Bawden, Henry Lamb, Osbert Lancaster, Adrian Daintrey, John Banting and Augustus John; through their friendship with Constant Lambert they mixed with the ballet crowd, including Margot Fonteyn and Michael Helpmann and through the Pakenhams (Lords Longford et al) they were connected with many other strands of society, both literary and nobility, and were often found to be staying with the Duke of Wellington in Granada, Spain, with the Sitwells at Renishaw, at Pakenham Hall in Ireland (in case you have not made the connection Lady Antonia Fraser, later wife of Harold Pinter is one of many) and the Mitfords.

This makes for fascinating reading because it is a glimpse into the lives of writers, artists and others that have figured enormously in the lives of anyone between the ages of 95 to 65, because these were the writers of modern fiction when we were “growing up”.

This large and talented group were the social opposite of the other famous, not to say legendary, literary giants of a slightly earlier period, the Bloomsbury Group. While the later group were all equally “well connected”, their lives were predicated upon the different mores that followed the First World War and during and after the Second.

If you have never read anything by Hilary Spurling, there are twelve other books to choose from, ranging from biographies of Ivy Compton-Burnett to Pearl Buck, taking on Matisse and Paul Scott and the Raj Quartet as well and if you have not read Anthony Powell – I sort of envy you, because you have such a treat in store. The Dance to the Music of Time is one of the very few re-reads I make, and I follow through by re-reading Marcel Proust The Remembrance of Things Past, for they are enduringly fascinating, wonderfully revealing and each time make the reader feel differently, as you perceive more layers and meaning in the increasingly familiar texts.

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On the Waterfront

Oops, no! Not the film!

The new novel by Pulitzer prize winner, Jennifer Egan was recommended to me by my favourite bookseller, Jessica at Primrose Hill Books NW1.

ManhattanManhattan Beach is set in the streets and clubs around the Naval Yards of New York just before Pearl Harbour and after. There are many characters but we see the whole picture through the experiences of three of them. Eddie Kerrigan, tall, unobtrusively handsome, husband and father to Anna and Lydia. His wife, Agnes, was once a Follies chorus girl, as was her sister, Brianne, who breezes in and out of the narrative like a breath of whisky!

Anna, who is a child at the start of the book, she is her father’s girl and often accompanies him while he is out and about, as a messenger for Donellen, a Union man on the docks. But once she reaches the nubile age of around twelve or so, he can no longer take her with him.

One of the characters that Eddie visits is Dexter Styles. A racketeer, owner of several bars and casinos, he is the principle pivot in this novel around whom things happen. Dexter is married into New York nobility (of a sort) although he is himself on the wrong side of the tracks in every sense: background, profession and the rest. However, his father-in-law, a wealthy banker has allowed the marriage to go ahead on some pretty stern limits.

As a young woman, Anna sees Dexter again, in one of his clubs. At the time she is working in the navel yards at a bench where she assesses the exact measurements of small widgets that are going into the building and repair yards for battleships, namely the USS Missouri and others. One day, she sees divers training off a barge in the East River and determines to train.

Not unlike The Woolgrower’s Companion, this is a book very much set in its time, the war having taken the men away so that women finally have an opportunity to do some real work, as opposed to housework. And in a similar way, this is also demonstrated in a film I saw at the London Film Festival, The Guardians about women on a farm in France during World War I.  Guardians

And as a complete coincidence, I saw the National Theatre production of Follies, the Stephen Sondheim musical; a completely overwhelmingly wonderful production, lavish, stylish and memorable. It must come on again sometime. Which chimes perfectly with the Manhattan Beach sisters, Agnes and Brianne.Follies

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It is good to be flexible

I have completely revised my opinion of Robert Harris, and to this I owe a debt of gratitude to a friend who has maintained faith with him. Independently, I thoroughly enjoyed An Officer and a Spy, his novel about the background to the Dreyfus Affair, an army scandal that rocked France in the 1890s and which led to Victor Hugo leaving France for exile after his rampant j’accuse campaign. The fact that Dreyfus was exonerated did not alter the opprobrium heaped on VC.

Then I was persuaded to read Robert Harris’ trilogy about Cicero, Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator, my icy heart slowly melted and I have enjoyed each of his latest, especially this last novel Munich.

Munich
As the title suggests, this is a novel about the historic, and fatally flawed, Munich Conference in September 1938. Switching between the lines of communication, both official and unofficial, of the German government of Adolf Hitler and his fascist partner Benito Mussolini, the Italian Duce, and the British government of Neville Chamberlain, with a walk on part for the French president Eduard Daladier (whom it has to be said, even historically, took a very passive position at this stupendous meeting), Robert Harris has constructed an almost hour by hour drama beginning at the point at which Hitler announced his intention of taking Sudetenland by force. This in spite of misgivings by his advisors some weeks before,  but after his first meeting with  Chamberlain at which he became convinced that Britain, and therefore France, would do nothing.  Robert Harris,  while outlining in detail the verifiable historic members of the process, has added two fictional characters whose actions played a small but vital part.

One of them, Paul von Hartmann, is very lightly based on the real life conspirator Adam von Trott. In this novel, Paul is part of a group of anti-Nazi Germans who intend to prevent war by stopping Hitler in his tracks, preferably by means other than outright assassination, which would only have created a martyr. Paul’s contact on the British side is a fellow Balliol graduate, Hugh Legat who is a parliamentary secretary, and both of them in this novel get themselves on to the teams that are travelling to Munich.

I suspect that it is not a plot spoiler to say that their attempts failed. It does not, one whit, alter the extreme tension of the novel, and the very near misses and subterfuges that went on as part of their story.

Even more compelling though, is the fleshing out of the real players, Chamberlain and his team, Hitler and his, because this story is told from the point of view of “before the worst happened”.

We all know now, that the annexation of Czechoslovakian Sudetenland was the prelude to a much wider land grab which precipitated the Second World War. But this novel takes us back to the moment when given different characters, or a different mind-set, or a different something, the catastrophe could have been avoided. Indeed, Neville Chamberlain thought that he had avoided it – “peace in our time” – his famous, now much derided, naïve belief after his private meeting with the Chancellor.

This is a most interesting, exciting and insightful look at those momentous weeks.

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Knitting, not reading (pace Stevie Smith)

Typical, nothing for weeks then three come along at once! I have been on a long knitting jag, with jerseys, blankets and cardigans flying off the needles, it becomes compulsive after a while, but impedes the reading, AudioBooks become the order of the day (& night)…

So what have we in mind today. Two books about World War II, a non-fiction treatment and a semi-fiction treatment and one book about the “Indian Wars”, that is to say the European Americans and what they then called Red Indians, now spoken of as Native Americans.

So I shall start with that one. Paulette Jiles has written many books about this period of American history, that is to say the Civil War and the Indian Wars.

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It was while writing a previous book, Enemy Women, that she came across the story of Britt Johnson. Moses Johnson with fifteen white women and  five black including children left the war torn areas and moved to North Texas. Britt Johnson was a manumitted African American (called negro, black or nigger at the time depending on the speaker), he took the family and settled in North Texas. Britt had a wife and three children. The Colour of Lightning is their story. How the Comanche and Kiowa descended on the settlement, killed one child and captured Mary and the remaining two children, went on to capture another woman, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, and her two grandchildren.

None of this was written down at the time, 1865-1870s or thereabouts, and was only recorded after Britt Johnson’s death by people who knew him, or had heard about him, in 1900. So Paulette Jiles has pieced together the myth and the historical facts as known and created a story that brings all the characters to life, most of the people in this book are real, one or two are like people that existed, like the Indian Agent, a pacifist Quaker named Samuel Hammond, sent for purposes that only God knew, to control and negotiate with the most war-like tribes: the Comanche, the Kiowa and the Kiowa-Apache.

Britt Johnson is real, he was away when his family were attacked, he determined to recover his family, and other captives and having accomplished that to set up as a freight-driver. This is the story of how this ambition was realised.

Samuel Hammond, however, is based, but lightly, upon a real Indian Agent called Lawrie Tatum and Samuel is in the novel in order to explore the dilemma facing the Quaker settlers from Philadelphia, who took no part in the Civil War (though Samuel drove an ambulance), and therefore were little regarded by many European (white) Americans, and were now part of the great re-settlement (in reservations) of the Native (Reds, as they were known) Americans. How does a pacifist deal with a tribal custom that includes killing, raping and mutilating victims, taking of captives and a nomadic life that cannot be contained in a reservation, no matter how big?
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This map shows the territory as it was in 1864-65.

The other two books are rather different. Hemingway at War by Terry Mort, rather speaks for itself. Much has been written, not least by Ernest Hemingway himself, about his escapades, much has been exaggerated, mostly by EH and much has been denigrated by others. Moonglow, on the other hand, is a fictionalised account of a grandfather’s experience in Europe, principally Germany, towards the end of World War II. In this book, Michael Chabon recounts the stories told him by his grandfather towards the end of his life, while in a hospital and dying, suddenly and for the first time, he began to describe incidents in his past life, especially those dealing with his experiences in Germany. The novel is an amalgam of things that Michael knew about his grandfather and also these revelations made almost when it was too late to press for details.

Both books in their own ways give us an account of that cataclysm which cannot but broaden our view of the conflict.

Hemingway, though a non-combatant, saw quite a lot of fighting at first hand as he attached himself to the American 22nd Regiment and went with them from Normandy right through to the liberation of Paris and on to Germany, until they were decimated at the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, this small but intense part of the war was the bloodiest, most deadly encounter that the 22nd had experienced. Not unlike the Battle of the Bulge, it was fought in dense forest, with little or no room for deep trench defenses, and splinters of wood from blasted trees inflicting as many casualties and fatalities as ordinary shrapnel.PhotoScan (6)

Hemingway himself, claims to have killed at least 100 Germans, which as a journalist he was not entitled to do, but at the same time it was known that for him “enough was never enough” and he was inclined to dress it up a bit. Strangely, the one engagement about which he wrote not one sentence was Hürtgen, perhaps finally, “enough” was way too much. In any event, he left the combat zones for good and returned to Paris, a privilege not afforded to what remained of the 22nd, who fought on to Berlin.

Moonglow was, in many ways, a more satisfactory book. Maybe novels are always better at presenting messy, complicated lives in a digestible fashion. Chabon’s grandfather was also in Europe towards the end of World War II, but on a quite different mission. As a noted chemist and engineer himself, he was tasked with seeking out as many German engineers and chemist, especially those involved with the V1 and V2 Rocket programme, to find them, capture them and extradite them to America, preferably before the Russians.PhotoScan (4)

The other parts of the book present a wonderful eccentric, a talented engineer engaged in rocketry, even before the war. Passionate about space exploration, but also with a haunted and difficult married life. This is a truly remarkable book, by a wonderfully talented and inventive writer.

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Family secrets

Tolstoy is supposed to have said “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way“, the same can be said of family secrets, happy families have small secrets that do no harm; unhappy families seem to have secrets that can cause damage generation after generation. So it is with the two books I am writing about today.

conradThe one I read first was Conrad and Eleanor by Jane Rogers. The two eponymous characters are scientists, they met at Cambridge, married when Eleanor fell pregnant, have four children and have been married some twenty five years. The children are all very different, but the third child, Caro is even physically different from the rest of the family.

But one quite outwardly ordinary day, Conrad fails to return from a conference in Germany. For a couple of days, Eleanor convinces herself that this is just because he missed his flight, she had the wrong day anyway or some fairly logical but unexplained reason. But soon, the continued silence, the fact that his colleagues seem perplexed by his non-appearance and her children’s concern force upon her than this is no ordinary absence.

Caro takes off to Munich in pursuit, Eleanor feels conflicted, was this the best option? But there is no stopping Caro, she will go and find him. Meanwhile, Eleanor overhears her other children discussing the possibility that she has “done away with him”.

During the course of this novel, we see both partners considering their past relationships; ones they have with other people as well as each other. The disappearance makes Eleanor review her behaviour, which has not been admirable and Conrad reviews the circumstances that have caused him to run and hide…

Professional conflict, work related stress and general busyness accounts for some of the fracture, professional jealousy also plays into the mix, and personal jealousy contributes to a fairly toxic situation. But it is not until there is a crisis on this scale that either of them take the necessary steps to resolve the failing marriage.  Inertia has caused them to carry on, both on a separate trajectory that is contributing to their lack of communication plus the dreaded secret – the uncovering of which has caused a leprosy of distrust to blight the marriage, the slow deadening of feelings…

Jane Rogers has the ability to observe human frailty with a warm and insightful gaze, to impart this on to the page in a way that packs an immense punch. To pick up almost any of her novels is to enter a world of awareness into characters that may be widely different in age and circumstance from our own and to inhabit their world completely for the next three hundred or so pages. Gifted and brilliant writing.

The second novel, also by a well known writer, is Cousins by Sally Vickers. This is a book after my own heart. It speaks to me of the sort of family I know, Northumbrians root and branch, with a pedigree that goes back generations and who have lived man and boy in the same house for many, many years. Dowlands, at the start of this novel, is in the hands of Hetta’s parents having been given over to them in a rather run-down state by Hetta’s grandfather. The book is told from the point of view of three women, all related to William Tye whose devastating accident is the focal point of the opening chapter.cousins

Hetta Tye is William’s younger sister, the older girl is called Sydella, know as Syd who lives in Jordan with her husband Omar. Hetta recounts all of the first section. Bell recounts the second section.  Bell is William’s aunt, sister of his father, and mother (single) of Cecelia always called Cele. Bell is a wild card, rackety and irresponsible but with a generous heart, in the eyes of the family she finally redeems herself.

As you might imagine, from the title of the book, William, Cele and Hetta are very close, and have been for as long as anyone could remember. Cele was often, not to say always, parked with William and Hetta either at Dowlands or at the house of their grandparents, Wilfred and Bertha Tye, always know as Fred and Betsy, while Bell was off with one partner or another.

Betsy, William’s grandmother, is the narrator in the third section and the final section returns to Hetta. There are more cousins, Fred and Betsy happen to be first cousins, they have three children, the eldest is Nathaniel, he also figures in this story, although even before the beginning of the novel he has died in an accident; another uncle who has died is Fred’s older brother who was killed in action.

This may all seem rather incestuous now, but reading around from books that include The Bible and many Victorian novels, the marriage of first cousins was not thought in any way odd or unsavoury or, even, unwise until quite recently. The Tye family are in no way unique, you only have to look at many Quaker family trees to find married first cousins, and as I said, Abraham sent Isaac off to marry one of the daughters of his brother.

Consanguinity and its consequences were not recognised until the mid-twentieth century. Inbreeding increases the risk of genetic disorders which leads to a decreased biological fitness, a fact which was only studied properly fairly recently. Parents with similar genetic mutations may be unaware of and unaffected by any disorder, however their children are at a higher risk and may be susceptible. Even second cousins who marry and have children, will have given their offspring a higher level  of risk than the rest of the population.

Cousins is not really about the genetic risks, but there is a definite undercurrent of family disasters being visited upon generation after generation. It is this that makes the novel so fascinating, the hidden histories that are slowly revealed, family secrets that impact one upon another. Collateral damage being how each event impacts on the rest of the group, in much the same way as a pebble thrown into a lake.

This is also a book about love and the risks that one will take, for love or through loving someone enough, or too much.

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Happy New Year!

I should probably apologise for not posting anything since October. The impending arrival of two new grandchildren meant that I was reading knitting pattern books and listening to the Radio (or audiobooks) but here is the New Year, the knitting pile complete and my readings are back.

My first post of this year deals with memory, one book is fiction – Sebastian Faulks new novel Where my heart used to beat. The other is a compelling exploration of history through a single house. The House by the Lake is a family history, a memorial and a history of Germany by Thomas Harding.

My heartIn his novel Faulks has combined two of his interests, the war and psychiatry. The narrator is a psychiatrist who has been invited by letter to visit an island retreat of another well known but slightly discredited member of the same profession. The hook is the fact that this person claims to have known Hendricks’ father.

His father having died in action during the First World War, Hendricks is minded to go, but hesitant. His mother has never explained fully what his father had done in the war, saying it was “all too painful”. Adult now and having had his “own” war, Hendricks feels conflicted. Will learning more about his father confirm or destroy the “hero” status that his boyhood fabrications had given this unknown but important absentee?

Suffice it to say that Hendricks himself has had a difficult and conflicted war, parts of which he has repressed and parts deliberately buried – there is a subtle difference. The author takes us on a journey through the mind of a psychiatrist who knows both how to manage emotion and conflict in others, but also is fully aware that parts of his own inner confusion are lying unexamined. Will “finding” his father help unblock his own lost youth?

Beautifully unravelled, this tale is about love, memory, madness and loss. It captures, in spare and perfect prose, the full incredible complexity of the human capacities of loving, forgetting and repressing memory and how that in leaving “stuff” unexamined we can twist our personalities and blight our lives irreparably.

houseBlighted lives, past histories and reconciliation are the subject of the other book. The house by the lake is real, the lake is Groß Glienicke, the house is a small wooden construction comprising several rooms looking on to the lake, bathrooms and a kitchen suitable for summer vacations and weekends, a small annexe for a chauffeur and a plot of land which has access directly on to the lake within easy reach of Berlin and Postdam.

The BBC have just broadcast this as a edited book on morning radio, it so annoys me when they do this. Do many people go out and buy the book afterwards? – It was already sitting in my pile, so each morning I had to quickly flick the radio off!

We first arrive at Groß Glienicke with Otto Wollank who is considering buying the whole estate when it was put up for sale by the owner who needed to raise money having fallen on hard times. Later on Wollank, himself, leases plots of land for building and the house is built by Alfred Alexander with Fritz Munk taking the plot next to it and building a similar wooden house.

Alfred Alexander is a well known, highly respected Jewish doctor whose patients (and visitors to the house by the lake) included Albert Einstein, James Franck, the actors Paul Wegener, Max Pallenberg and Sybille Binder and many similar. He marries and has several children, Elsie being the one who binds the author, Thomas Harding, to the house. She has clearly loved this place, a “soul place” she calls it.

So this is the interesting thing, Thomas Harding. Sounds thoroughly English? But only one generation back his family name was Hirschowitz, his grandmother Elsie and her husband Erich having escaped from Germany at the beginning of the Second World War, Erich Anglicised their surname.

Thomas Harding, after the war, after the reunification of Germany goes in search of this house which mattered so much to his grandmother and finding it began to research its history. When he first arrives the house is due for demolition and the City of Potsdam intend to use the plot for a low-cost housing development. Harding, through effort, determination and enthusiastic support achieves his aim and eventually the house gets Denkmal status.

The book contains his research into who had owned the house after his family had retreated. The Aryanisation programme, then the Second World War, then East Germany, the Berlin Wall – which ran right along the edge of the lake and ten metres away from the house itself, squatters, and a gamut of families – each one with a special place in its history.

Harding (and his research team) chases them up, interviews and excites them and finally wins over his family, the house will become a museum and reconciliation centre for Groß Glienicke. It is the history of a country seen through a single lens – the story of a house.

I cannot recommend it too highly. More information can be found at http://www.Alexanderhaus.org

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Turn Our Captivity, O Lord

This comes from Psalm 126. Some may think this oddly inappropriate? But here goes…

The GFSSimon Mawer has followed up his Second World War Resistance novel, with a new book about the same woman. In The Girl Who Fell from the Sky we follow the wartime exploits Marian Sutro, part English and part French who is recruited to the SOE, though most of the time she seems too naive to have worked that out. She has some well trodden fictional paths to follow and one extremely unusual one, she is recruited by a rival secret operation to persuade a one-time friend to leave France and come to England.

It is this adventure that makes this an interesting novel. The Resistance work, the drop over France, the clandestine meetings and messages are covered elsewhere, not better probably but more of the same. Marian’s other adventure and her time in Paris doing it, is both more exciting, more edge of the seat and slightly less likely, but nevertheless gripping stuff.

As with all his books, Simon Mawer keeps his hand well hidden and the gradual reveal is all the more telling with the final shocking denouement. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky does not match his previous hauntingly beautiful book The Glass Room about an architect’s dream project in Germany and the people who lived there, but it is a page turner.

The new novel, Tightrope, Tightropereaches another level all together. Once again, Marian Sutro is our heroine, this is her life after the war. She is trying to settle down, she is trying to forget and she has drifted into an unsuitable marriage. Unsuitable because she is much cleverer than her husband, she married on the rebound and anyway life in peacetime simply is not as vivid, nerve-stretching or interesting as her time in the front line. How could it be? In a book like this? Very interesting indeed.

These are both very unusual novels, but exploring the life after seems to be a richer seam, partly because it is a road less travelled – though one that is being travelled more and more frequently by others, Kate Atkinson for example, but also Sebastian Faulks.

Wolf BorderThe other book that I read along the same lines is The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall.  What?! I hear you cry…bear with me.

The heroine of this book, Rachel Caine, is also recruited, this time by a wealthy landowning aristocrat, Earl of Annerdale, with a plan.  He wants, as one of his playthings, a pair of wolves and as she has worked on an American reservation protecting wolves there, she seems the best target for his operation.

At first reluctant, Rachel then finds herself in an awkward situation and so opts out of the wild wolf project to start a captivity project for a pair of Grey Wolves, to be imported according to all the strictest laws and restrictions. from Europe.  This beautiful pair, who will live, she supposes, on the Earl’s estate (which seems limitless) in a magnificently, expensively constructed enclosure with every modern security system available. are an experiment in controlled reintroduction .

Apart from some serious animal rights protest, some anxious neighbours and some angry farmers, what could possibly go wrong?  The Earl is boundless in his enthusiasm, then seems to lose interest; his daughter uses this as her gap year project, about which Rachel has serious misgivings, but is won over; apart from one break in, luckily before the pair are released from their quarantine enclosure, everything goes like clockwork.

The pair are released after being carefully monitored and having GPS chips inserted under their coats.  A wild-life photographer sets up his hides and all is set.  Wonderfully, the pair like each other and in the absence of any alpha-females, they breed successfully in the first spring, producing four beautiful wolf-cubs…Rachel, who has also been breeding, could not be happier.

This all sounds very fanciful. Actually, it is as much about family life as about the wild. The manifest tensions around sibling rivalry and how it can be resolved, its causes and the lasting damage.  Rachel has been away for years, estranged from her rackety mother and distant from her brother, returning to England she is able to resolve some of these issues.  The Earl. too, has parental problems resulting from an accident in a plane which caused the death of his wife.  This does not seem to have prevented him from flying, however but has caused near-permanent estrangement from his son, who will eventually inherit, though the daughter seems to care more about the land and its attendant responsibilities.

Sarah Hall has a good eye for landscape and she is in familiar territory here as most of the action takes place in and around the Lake District.  Previous books have been selected by the Man Booker judges for the Shortlist, but she has yet to win.

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