So, the votes are all in, the counting has taken place and been verified by independent assessors and the result can now be declared: this year’s Summer School will be reading the three novels gathered together under the heading Paying the Price. To save you hastily scanning through previous posts to find out what they are, here is the list and contrary to the usual disclaimer, they are in a particular order.
A Whispered Name ~ William Brodrick
The Reckoning ~ Rennie Airth
The Girl Who Fell From The Sky ~ Simon Mawer
Collectively, these novels deal with issues to do with the First and Second World Wars and they need to be read in the order I’ve listed them because the central book looks both ways, back to to the First World War issues dealt with in the Brodrick novel and forward to those concerning the Second and written about by Mawer in the last of the trio.
A Whispered Name is one of Brodrick’s Father Anselm novels and deals with the question of those young men who were shot for desertion. I am going to lead this discussion myself because one of the subjects that Brodrick is concerned with is the flexibility of narrative depending on who is telling the story. However, I know that I will find it very difficult to reread this book because the horror of what was done to those young men by their own side is truly abhorrent. Nevertheless, it is an excellent piece of writing and certainly gives the lie to those people who decry genre fiction as ‘not really good literature’.
The second choice, The Reckoning, is the fourth in Rennie Airth’s series featuring DI John Madden. This book is set in the late 1940s but deals with family secrets that stem from both the First and Second World Wars. In the case of the First it is, like the Brodrick, to do with the question of desertion; in respect of the Second it is concerned with those brave individuals, members of the SOE, who put themselves in terrible danger by parachuting into occupied France to help with the Resistance. This is a more typical crime novel than the Brodrick, but Airth is a seriously good writer and not, I think, well enough known. I’m looking forward to introducing his work to a group that I think will appreciate him.
Simon Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, (published in the US as Trapeze) tells the story of Marian Sutro, half French, half English, who is recruited by the SOE and then sent into South West France, officially to act as a Resistance courier. Her real mission, however, is to make her way to Paris and establish contact with an old family friend who is involved in developing a nuclear weapon. The novel is based, to some extent, on the wartime experiences of Mawer’s mother and other women whom she knew during that time. This will be quite a hard hitting book to finish the week on but I’m hoping that it will encourage people to go off and read Tightrope, which carries the story forward and possibly Mawer’s other books about European conflict, The Glass Room and Prague Spring. Again, he is a writer that I don’t think is well enough known.
I’m really pleased with this selection and as far as is possible, given the subject matter, looking forward to rereading them all. If I have time I shall also try and reread Leo Marks’ book From Silk to Cyanide. Marks, a member of one of the families which owned Marks and Co, better known as 84 Charing Cross Road, worked as a code maker for the SOE from 1941 to 1945 and the story he has to tell will prove useful background for the second and third books as well as being a worthwhile read in itself.
The Summer School will take place during the week beginning August 19th and as far as is possible I shall try and post about our deliberations as soon after they happen as I can. If any of you want to read along with us and join in the discussion on line then you would be most welcome.