Around the World in 80 Children’s Books: A Global Booklist for Kids
Novel set in WW2 FRANCE – guest review by Isobel Blackthorn
5th August 2020
The Single Soldier by George Costigan, novel set in WW2 France. Guest review by Isobel Blackthorn.
Set in France during the German occupation of World War Two, The Single Soldier tells a moving story of a simple farmer and the lives of those who surround him.
In a short prologue, Jacques is observed by a child as he uses his cart and cow to move his house from one side of the village to the other. Jacques’ father died in World War One before he was born and his mother is wracked with grief and refuses to leave her bed. While Jacques milks cows and cuts hay and feeds chickens, far away in northern France Simone witnesses the murder of both her parents and flees using a well-trodden escape route. Eventually, she arrives at Jacques farm.
Even while the Germans remain far away, under the occupation the villagers’ fear each other, fear the Collaborators, fear the Resistance. Some secretly listen to exiled De Gaulle on the radio. Others are loyal to Vichy France. As the war progresses and the Germans circle nearer and nearer, danger looms and Jacques must choose his fate.
The Single Soldier provides not only a gripping dramatization of history, but a deeply moving and at times heart-wrenching story of love and loss, courage and cowardice, and above all, resilience. Strong characterisation is demonstrated throughout, the main characters especially well-honed. The raw simplicity of rural France, the loyalties and the alliances and the divisions are all depicted with acute observation. Costigan gifts his readers a vivid sense of place, bringing south-western France, a mountainous region inland from Burgundy and Bordeaux, to life. I felt I walked with Jacques through the village of St Cirgues and smelled the wine and the pastis as he sat with Jerome and Arbel at the Café Tabac. And I sensed the menace of the German occupation, a dark shadow waiting.
Costigan has chosen to write in sparse prose using a deep point of view, a literary style those in the thriller genre will be more familiar with. For readers of a more historical bent wishing for a fluid read, the lack of punctuated dialogue, the complete absence of attributions and the almost abrupt composition might be an affront. Yet this story warrants persevering with, the effort taken in getting used to Costigan’s approach paying dividends not far in, and once mastered, the reader will be rewarded with rich, dense and tremendously evocative storytelling. Some of the best fiction being published today is coming out of the small, independent presses, including the hybrid publishers, those who will take a risk on works that buck trends, that shun the formulaic. As readers we should be prepared to be challenged from time to time. The Single Soldier is a memorable story, haunting and relevant. Costigan has penned a tale to stir the heart.
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Guest Review by Isobel Blackthorn for the TripFiction Team
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