When I first started this blog I wrote that I wanted to use my reading, cinema viewing, theatre and exhibition visits to help me with understanding the discipline of social policy and my place in the world. This blog aims to be an inter-disciplinary space using culture to understand the practicalities of politics. Helen Dunmore does something similar with her fiction. She asks ordinary people to cope with the dramas of history and politics. For example, The Siege (2001) focuses on the Levin family trapped inside Leningrad while Hitler’s army surrounds the city. The Lie (2014) gives a raw portrayal of a soldier’s return from World War 1. Exposure (2016) examines a marriage under the strain of the Cold War. This novel does something different. The big event is the French Revolution. However, the triumph and horror of the ferocious events of Paris are experienced vicariously as the action of the novel is set in Bristol. Continue reading
The blurb for this short novel reads:
A young man stands looking out to sea.
Behind him the horror of the trenches, and the most intense relationship of his life.
Ahead of him the terrible unforeseen consequences of a lie.
I picked up this book for two reasons. First I had read previous books by Dunmore and her flair for recreating an historic moment through careful research but few words is a pleasure. Second, it is about the First World War, an era that fascinates me by being both near and far in the public imagination.
L P Hartley wrote as the first words to The Go Between:
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
Contrast this with Eric Midwinter (1994: 11) writing about history and social policy:
It is more than a passing or antiquated interest which should prompt an appraisal of medieval England. Apart from the discovery there of the origins of some present day welfare mechanisms, it serves the other purpose of demonstrating how societies different in style from our own are faced with basically similar problems