Talking Location With author JS Monroe – West Penwith, CORNWALL
Novel set in New York, England and Southern France
22nd December 2020
The Soldier’s Home by George Costigan, novel set in New York, England and Southern France.
Set in New York, England and southern France, The Soldier’s Home takes up the story of reclusive farmer Jacques Vermande and mother of his son and war refugee Simone who escapes to New York in the 1940s. The story is told in three parts, the first, comprising a third of the novel, a series of letters from Simone to Jacques depicting her life, its trials and joys, along with those of their boy Jack. All the while Jacques is occupied relocating his cottage, stone-by-stone, from his former family farm to a plot of land on the far side of another village.
Through Simone’s letters, the reader is impressed with all of the heartache and tragedy that took place in St Cirgues and Puech through the Second World War. America is changing, New York is changing, and Simone finds herself increasingly identifying with those changes, with modernity. The letters are filled with an acute awareness of her separation from and longing for Jacques, and her slow attempt at saving enough for a trip to France to visit him and introduce him to Jack. Seven years pass.
The second portion of the tale is utterly moving in fatalistic fashion, as longing vies with practical common sense. It would spoil the novel to say more. I found this part of Costigan’s book breath-taking, the author writing with exquisite sensitivity and restraint.
About two thirds in, the story shifts to Pendlebury, England, in 1988, where high school teacher, author and spinster Enid Makin struggles to come to terms with her past, her parents and their respective deaths. Enid has led a sheltered working-class life at a time when British working-class identity was strong, yet it was a life overshadowed by her father who was traumatised by the war and their uneasy relationship as she broke ranks to attend university. It isn’t until she is well into her fifties that Enid musters the courage to step out of her comfort zone and the humdrum life she has been leading. This courage, this whim is what leads her across The Channel to France.
Setting in the novel is strong, New York and England brought to life not so much as physical places, more in the context of the social, cultural and political upheaval of post-war modernity that form a backdrop to this tale and drive the plot, for it is the result of these upheavals that both Simone and Enid made the decisions they did. And as for rural France, it stands as the romantic juxtaposition, its traditional values upheld, and until it, too, undergoes a deep transformation, a gain at once a loss.
Costigan has penned a book to devour, by turns evocative, sentimental and observant. Although it might be possible to read as a standalone, the reader will be cheated out of the very moving and rich story of The Single Soldier, and the welling of passion in the hearts of Simone and Jacques won’t be adequately understood. If you arrive now at The Soldier’s Home do acquire both books and read The Single Soldier first. Highly recommended.
Guest review by Isobel Blackthorn, TripFiction’s Writer in Residence
Isobel is a prolific Australian novelist. She writes both contemporary/literary, thrillers and dark fiction. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and via her website.
Join team TripFiction on Social Media:
Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction)