Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Snippet: Black Out

John Lawton has a fine eye for capturing war torn London. In Black Out the year is 1944 and the blitz is still lingering on. I reviewed the book ten days or so ago and I thought I'd share a passage from the book that might wet your appetite.

At the foot of Eros's pedestal two young women sat in shirtsleeves, daring all for spring sun, and shared a single cigarette.

He walked into Piccadilly, watching his shadow dance before him. In the brightness of such light the city contrasted sharply with the weather. London thawed. London budded. London ached. Like a muscle stretched and strained for too long it yearned to relax. The sense of action, the sense of an ending being almost tangible. Troy found himself wondering if the city would not expire with the forst breath of spring like some old man who had spent his energy enduring the depth of winter and had none left for the simple pleasures of living. What the sun revealed was a city of peeling, blistered paint, of broken, boarded-up windows, of shattered walls and open roofs, of four long years of make do and mend. It was a city scorched and scarred, patched and tattered in the light of spring.

I was also taken by this line:

'Of course war's an utter fucking picnic! Millions getting slaughtered for the benefit of the nostalgia of the survivors.'

Given the plethora of novels, TV series, documentaries and Hollywood movies that focus on the second world war, it's difficult to not think of them as a perverse nostalgia industry built on a mountain of dead bodies (even if some of them help us to think through why it happened and shocking waste of life, rather than simply providing entertainment).

I've already ordered the second book in the series, Old Flames, which moves forward to 1956. If its written with the same prose and eye for place I'm sure to enjoy.


crimeficreader said...

It is. Someone once said to me that in the scene in the Houses of Parliament where Churchill is walking towards Troy (I think), she felt like she was actually there. This one involves a bit more espionage. I particularly remember as such stuff usually manages to flummox me and it did here. Obviously, I am not a candidate for a role with MI5, MI6 or in politics.

Unknown said...

Of the series Old Flames is the one I've come back to most often. The variety of places that are captured are most engaging and feel vividly real for me. It is much more a spy story than one about conventional crime, but I genuinely don't think it's any the worse for that.

As the series progresses they seem to become less and less about the crime and more about the interconnected lives populating a point in history. This doesn't pose any sort of problem for me in reading and loving them, largely because of the rich prose and ability to locate them in time and place.

I'll be interested to see what you make of the way the series evolves.

Rob Kitchin said...

Sounds good. Looking forward to reading it sometime in September, hopefully.