One of the largest (page count) books* that I’ve read this year (which is one of the reasons why it took so long to finish this sucker), this was a pretty good book overall. I didn’t have the stellar experience that I’d had with one of Woodward’s books before (see my review of August here), but I think some of that can be attributed to the time and energy required for my new job responsibilities combined with the fact that the plot was really pretty complex – both of which made the read quite demanding at times. I ended up picking it up and putting it down in small spurts when I think that the best way to approach it would be to attack it in huge long sections. (“It’s not you. It’s me.”)
The plot is set close to the outbreak of WWII in England where protagonist Lieutenant Kenneth Brill is being court-martialed for possible treason linked with his making drawings of a classified location. Emotions were very high for everyone at this point in history, and so authorities were easily triggered by even the most seemingly innocent of actions. (In fact, the location was a hamlet called Heath which was actually destroyed during this time frame to make long runways for the war effort. It later became known as Heathrow Airport. Huh. Whooda thunk.)
So, LT Brill is arrested for drawing this classified construction site, and we, as readers, are then taken back and forth in time to explain how Brill ended up in this position of being court-martialed. For the remainder of the book, Brill’s life is covered in detail and, as the trial continues, we learn of his childhood in this particular rural area and then his later years. This alternating narrative between past and present is what makes the book benefit from those extended periods of immersed reading I mentioned previously, and that was exactly what I couldn’t give the book during my last few busy months.
With these few and far between snippets of reading time and with the large cast of characters along with the time flip-flops, I often found myself rather confused about who was doing what when. (A confusing plotline was not helped by a couple of the main characters having remarkably similar names.) Another point that started to weigh rather heavily was the not-very-subtle (I might say “blindingly obvious”) hints of repressed sexuality in the detailed sex scenes. Please – if I read one more mention of someone’s “loins”, there’s going to be trouble.
So, in the end, this book presented itself as more of a vanity project for the author and actually nowhere near as good as that read of one of Woodward’s earlier works. I’d recommend that you start with August and go from there. This was not Woodward’s best work. (However, don’t let this stop you. It might be right up your alley if you like that sort of thing.)
* See the Scary Big Book Project for more on big books and how I tend to fear them….
(Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.)