Archive for October, 2010

Minor conflicts over Small Wars

Sadie Jones’ second novel Small Wars featured in our choices because of the author’s planned visit to the Durham Book Festival later this month. (October 24th, for anyone who’s keen to go).

Certainly there are plenty of aspects to the novel to make for a lively question and answer session. The novel centres on soldier Hal Treherne who is posted to Cyprus in the 1950s and is followed by his wife Clara and their young twin daughters. The brutalities of the war change Hal and have a devastating effect on his relationship. But the novel is more than Hal and Clara’s domestic affairs, as it spares little detail on the atrocities of war. There are obvious present-day parallels: bullying soldiers, sectarianism, guerilla attacks on occupying forces and the terrible family tragedies that accompany each individual soldier’s death.
It was a book that most readers praised highly, although Mike and Margaret, who weren’t able to attend the meeting, e-mailed their views that the writing quality was poor and the characterization weak; even though they found the story more engrossing once the action started, they felt the writing remained “sloppy.” They also felt the present-day paralells were limited, partly because families no longer go out to war zones. Jill, on the other hand, who also couldn’t come along, said she enjoyed the novel, found it very moving and really empathised with Hal and his sense of helplessness in the face of the many atrocities of the war.
Ann loved the book, feeling that it worked on many levels, including that of a love story. She enjoyed the understated quality of Jones’ writing. Certainly, the author seems very good at writing repression and what is not said.  We felt Clara may act as Hal’s conscience; or perhaps, as Hannah suggested, Hal represented the army and Clara civilisation. For Maisie, the novel was authentic in its portrayal of the 1950s and her own army experiences led her to feel the characters were well-drawn. I struggled with this; I couldn’t decide whether Hall’s repressed nature was a true reflection of how such a character would be, given the times, or whether he was something of a stereotype.
Colin found it flowing and felt the character or story voids were deliberate, leaving the reader able to use their imagination. Paula enjoyed the novel’s complexity and its examination of flawed heroes. Welcome to new member Jacqui, who also enjoyed the work. Janet, however, felt she was unsure of what the novel was trying to deliver and found the shifting points of view unconvincing. It was a really enjoyable discussion which went on too long to include everyone’s comments, so apologies for that!
Ann started an enjoyable conversational thread by asking what books we keep returning to. They included Pride and Prejudice, The Heart of the Matter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Time Traveller’s Wife and The Woman in Black.
Do join us in November for our discussion of Liz Jensen’s The Rapture. Kim has ordered more copies so I’m sure they’ll arrive in the shop soon.
Next meeting: Tuesday November 2nd, 6.30pm at Doolally’s in Marygate. The Rapture by Liz Jensen.


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit

October 2010
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