A Partisan’s Daughter, by Louis de Bernieres

A Partisans Daughter by Louis de BernieresIn his saddest novel so far, or perhaps just his least life-affirming, De Bernières depicts England in the 1970s as a depressingly pathetic place, a nation of plonkers.

De Bernières excels at depicting catastrophically-doomed countries with fiery national temperaments -- England therefore is not an easy setting for him, even though he includes a Serbian character in the mix. The author himself does not seem entirely convinced yet that 1970s England is worth writing about... and the Yugoslav politics we get didn't feel to me fully assimilated into the story.

"Mrs. Thatcher came to power, and everyone was wondering what was going to happen. I wasn't sorry to see the end of Callaghan. I don't think anyone was. It was all very well having a nice man in charge, but he hadn't really been in charge. The most memorable thing he did was to sing 'My Wife Won't Let Me' at a conference. Roza didn't care one way or the other. Her only political concern was whether or not Tito was going to die."

De Bernières is also good at quiet stories of love gone sadly wrong, and on this level, A Partisan's Daughter delivers -- it's just a pity there isn't also a civil war in the book. Should the United Kingdom ever go through a lengthy period of internecine fighting and ethnic cleansing, De Bernières will be perfectly positioned to write a contemporary English novel. Or maybe he's gearing up to right a new kind of book, something more autobiographical, and this was a sort of trial run?

I await his next book eagerly. I enjoyed this one, but if you haven't read De Bernières yet, you're more likely to want to begin with something like the excellent Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which is also I think his most popular novel, probably because, of all them, it's set in the country with the most tourist appeal. Birds Without Wings is amazing too, and has an interestingly pro-Ottoman bias.

The first three quarters of the first novel in his Colombian trilogy are brilliant. The last quarter of The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts didn't convince me, but maybe it's one of those books powerful enough that the ending simply cannot afford to be true to the rest of the book. Conrad's Lord Jim is another case in point. A novelist who ended such a book realistically might simply not make it through the ensuing psychological crisis, just as Thomas Hardy never wrote another novel after Jude The Obscure.

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