A romp of a novel set across Europe
The Soldier’s Return
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical
Era(s): post 1945
The end of World War Two has to be one of Britain’s most dewy-eyed, rose-tinted memories. Yearned for years in advance–Dame Vera Lynn built an entire career on such yearning–it spelled the end of the anguishing waiting, the terrible deprivations overseas and Johnny asleep in his own little bed again. It takes a good novel to make new all the hackneyed emotion of the moment, and a great one to reveal, without sensationalising, the doubts behind the smiles. In that case, this may be a great novel.
By the time corporal Sam Richardson returns from Burma to his Cumbrian hometown of Wigton, the bunting’s long gone, and Sam, like everybody else, wants to get back to normal. But his plans to return to family life with Ellen and six- year-old son Joe don’t run smooth. The war has taken away his old job, while Ellen holds down two: Joe’s been raised with other men as father-figures: and Sam struggles to repress what he’s witnessed out east. In The Soldier’s Return Bragg explores the most unsettling of experiences: returning to a normality that’s no longer normal. In Sam, with his undemonstrative reserve and irrational suspicions, he creates a man who cannot heal the mental scars of active service. While Bragg affectingly evokes Cumbria in the 40s, with a sure-footed sense of that time and place’s idiom, this is no exercise in nostalgia, but a book whose concerns–how to deal with the happy ending of war–are only too resonant today. –Alan Stewart
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