Monday, 4 October 2010

"War on the Margins" by Libby Cone

This is (I believe) a first novel by a new author who writes with refreshingly old-fashioned attention to such out-dated concepts as grammar, and also peppers her work with adjectives and adverbs. I would guess from this that she has never attended a course on creative writing.

The book is set on Jersey during the German occupation and deals with difficult subjects such as degrees of (and motives for) collaboration, and, crucially with what might be called Jewishness. It turns out there are a number of people who do not regard themselves as Jewish; some even attend church regularly and have been brought up as Christians. However, when their family circumstances are set against the draconian yet ridiculously bureaucratic rules of the Nazi regime, they are forced to recognise that they have been singled out, with consequences which are unlikely to be pleasant.

This is of course dark, powerful stuff, and one feels properly moved by what Cone depicts so well, not least the persecuted Mr Davidson. Yet, perhaps a little unworthily, I couldn't help feeling that maybe the world had already seen more than enough books and films on the awful fate of the Jews during the Nazi era about twenty years ago. Maybe it's just me, but I actually groan aloud now whenever I realise that I have been strapped into yet another Holocaust theme-park ride. In much the same way, incidentally, I think that new books about Napoleon, or the Battle of Britain, take a lot of justifying. It isn't that one should care about what happened any less, simply that there are only so many times you can hear the story.

The second strand of the book features the real-life writer Claude Cahun and her lover Marcel Moore, whose real name was Suzanne Malherbe. Since these are real life characters, it probably does not count as a spoiler to note that both were active in the resistance on Jersey, and were captured by the Germans in 1944, having been informed upon by a local resident.

I enjoyed this feature of the book too. Cone has obviously done her research thoroughly and I felt that the real and the invented blended together very well as a work of fiction. It lightens the gloom of the current publishing environment somewhat to see such a well-written book being taken up by a commercial publisher.

War on the Margins is published by Duckworth Overlook, ISBN 978-0715639726

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