Sunday, 29 December 2019

NOW WE SHALL BE ENTIRELY FREE by Andrew Miller

This is like  a Jane Austen book but if Austen wrote thrillers.  It tells the story of a veteran of the Napoleonic wars.  He signed up, as many centuries of men seem to have done, with cheerful naivete. and a sort of hopeful blood thirstiness.  Strangely enough, killing strangers does not turn out to be all that fun, and especially not for the horses, and he returns home with a lot on his mind.

He decides to go travelling, to the islands beyond Scotland.  He struggles with a laudanum addiction, falls in love with a woman in some kind of cult, and then discovers he is being pursued by a deranged former army colleague (long story).  Despite all this incident, it does not exactly hang together as a plot.  But I still quite enjoyed it.  It's vividly historically imagined, which I like.  Here  he is describing the activities at port, for example
. . . the flogging of malefactors, the swabbing and coiling, the learning of stars, the difficult Arab maths
And some of it was quite beautiful; here he is spending the afternoon on the deck of a ship:
. . . the dull miracle of sea and air, of time slipping like honey through muslin
Or this, on an egg:
. . . the shell a perfect fit for the curve of his palm. It was like the evidence of something, a proof out of theology.  Also just an egg that he cracked on his front teeth, letting the yolk roll on to his tongue.
I love that description of the shape of an egg as 'a proof out of theology'! 

Mostly though this book made me think that really people have been having a bad time in wars for a very long time.  Read this interesting entry in Wikipedia, about Jonathan Martin, also a deranged veteran of the Napoleonic wars. He had a wild life, with eleven siblings, an aunt obssessed with hell, witnessing his own sister's murder, getting press-ganged into the navy, etc.  Eventually he burned down the choir at York Minster because he was "bothered" by the buzzing of the organ.  Fair enough. You can see where you might be at the end of your tether

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