A(nother) Review: You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

I finished this book a little while ago and it’s been hanging around the edges of my mind ever since. Maybe, partly because Jacob Rees-Mogg was waxing lyrical about the Boer War the other day on Question Time

You Will Be Safe Hereby Damian Barr is a novel set in South Africa. It starts – after a brief prologue – at the turn of the twentieth century following Sarah van der Waat’s diary entries from her time in a concentration camp. 

While very well written, it seems to bear little relation to the character of Willem, a young boy who appears in the prologue based in 2010.

As part one gives way to part two, we jumped forward to 1976, and we meet a new character, a young woman named Rayna. Again, very well written, very engaging, but her story of her family life and her marriage has seemingly no connection with Willem. 

I was enjoying it, but there was a niggling voice at the back of my head that was asking ‘where is this going?’ – which actually made the read more enjoyable. 

I read hundreds of books and with most of them I have a fair idea of where it is going, I’m pretty good at spotting twists, but this is unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. 

And that’s because this isn’t a book about Willem, or Sarah or Rayna. This is a book about war and nationalism. 

The effects of the Boer War – fondly looked back on by the likes of Rees-Mogg as the last gentleman’s war – had and continue to have a lasting impact on South Africa. 

There’s a quote on the back of the copy I read from Diana Athill that says‘You come out of reading it a different person from when you went in’, while another, from Alex Preston reads ‘A book that will change the way you see the world’.

I highlight these two particular quotes because they manage to sum up exactly how I feel, in perhaps a more eloquent way than I ever could. I knew nothing about the Boer war – apart from Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army who claimed that ‘they do not like it up ‘em, sir’.

I didn’t know a huge amount about South Africa. I didn’t realise it was the British who basically invented concentration camps – perhaps not the gas chambers of Hitler’s war – but the British army was responsible for a huge amount of deaths in that country.

I’m angry that I didn’t know about this. It’s because history is written by the victors and the Empire as it was saw it a great victory. It’s not, it’s a shameful period of our country’s history and should be recognised as such. It should be taught in schools, alongside both World Wars. We should grow up knowing that we’re not always the heroes. 

I did know that. Of course I knew that. But this is perhaps the first time I truly know what that means. 

One last word before I go, and it’s another quote from the back cover – this time, from Patrick Gale: ‘Astonishing’. 

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr will by published by Bloomsbury on the 4thApril.

A(nother) Review: Sail Away by Celia Imrie

After last week’s heart-stopped, testosterone-filled spy thriller Capture or Kill, this week’s #ThumpingGoodRead2018 is a complete 180-degree-turn. And another book that I wouldn’t normally read (starting to realise how niche my reading list can be!).

 

It’s Celia Imrie’s Sail Away.

 

Everyone will know Imrie of course for her acting and has most famously appeared on TV alongside Victoria Wood in Acorn Antiquesand in films such as Calendar Girlsand – rather left-field – Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

 

But Imrie, in latter years, has also dabbled in writing and Sail Away is her third novel. It follows two women who are in their – let’s say twilight years – Suzy Marshall and Amanda Herbert.

 

Through a series of misunderstandings, they both find themselves on a cruise across the Atlantic. They meet all sorts of strange people, including a few who can’t be trusted. Their lives are inter-connected in ways they don’t yet know, and they are thrown together in a way that might just solve all their problems.

 

Sail Away is NOT a love story.

 

It most books store it sits in a strange genre of books – that of general fiction, which is essentially the home for any book that isn’t a thriller, crime, sci-fi or old-lady-romance. With the soft pastel colours on the cover you might be forgiven for thinking it is a love story.

 

Most books are these days.

 

But this is a story about two women, friendship and farce.

 

I have a problem with ‘funny books’ – I often think humour is the hardest of all emotions to invoke in a reader. Particularly me. I *LOVE* slapstick and farce, I love watching people fall over and run in and out doors.

 

It’s the sort of humour that relies on fast-paced visual gags. Even if you can describe them perfectly, you probably won’t be able to do it at the pace that keeps it funny.

 

However Imrie manages to strike the right tone with Sail Awayand I really enjoyed it – especially as you can easily imagine the BBC turning it into a lottery-funded British film starring a list of people who all have Dame or Sir before their names.

 

Like I said, it’s not the sort of book that I would normally read – I love prolonged explorations of death and terrible things that make me cry – but this is the perfect book to give you a break from all the angst of those.

 

Next time I’m heading on holiday, I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Imrie to read around the pool.

 

Sail Awayis available now from Bloomsbury Publishing and will be half price in all WHSmith stores until Wednesday 13thJune.

 

You can find out more about Sail Away, the Thumping Good Read award and all the other  contenders by visiting the WHSmith blog.