by Louis de Bernières
This was the first book I read on my Kindle (a more enjoyable experience than I had expected!). It is a collection of short glimpses into the lives of the individual inhabitants of a small English village called Notwithstanding. The humorous, eccentric, tragic and heart-warming characters are exposed for a moment for us to see and get to know. Their backgrounds and futures are laid bare in a remarkably simple and humane way.
As the book progresses, some of the links and relationships between characters and buildings are revealed slowly and in fragments, so by the end we have a pretty good overall picture of life in this village.
The author constantly brings in an element of nostalgia for a Britain that once was. One character hums “There’ll always be an England”, the postman rides a bicycle “in all weathers”, the vicar lives in a haunted rectory, and the General cultivates azaleas and hydrangeas and believes “in the civilising effects of the Empire”. I enjoyed these references very much, and had to smile so many times at episodes reminding me of my own childhood – also in a village, albeit a somewhat larger and not quite so exotic one!
Absolutely recommendable. I have read several books by Louis de Bernières, but this one was different… not as intense or disturbing as “Birds Without Wings” for example. More credible and easier to read than the trilogy set in a mythical South American country (The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo & The Coca Lord, and The Troublesome Offspring Of Cardinal Guzman).
I particularly liked the Afterword by the author, where he stresses that village life still does exist. He also writes that “Britain really is an immense lunatic asylum” and “We believe in the right to eccentricity”. I totally agree!