Cheer up, it might never happen. Oh wait, it did, repeatedly.
On, paper (which handily enough, books are) I should have loved ‘Requiem for a Wren’. I love post-war things, and as a child I had dreamed of being a wren. My dad was in the navy and I would see women in navy combats running about the harbour looking all fit and such. And this book name-checks so many places I know, as although it’s set on an Australian sheep farm, the main character keeps thinking back to his time in Portsmouth, and the dead wren was stationed in places like Beaulieu and Ford. And, some of the staff members in the Australian house originated in Aberdeenshire, places Ellon and Peterhead, and so it was like location bingo, and I’d shout excitedly when I knew somewhere, which was all the time.
The book opens with a son returning home to his parents’ giant farm, and a maid has killed herself. It turns out she was using a false name, and she was in fact the fiance of the couple’s other son, one who didn’t survive the war.
Opening on a suicide is a gamble. There’s no way to make this okay, one sad death has joined another, and once the mystery is unraveled I felt flat.
Someone once said (I can’t remember who, but then no one reads this blog looking for concrete arguments) that although Graham Greene was having books published well into his old age, were they actually any good? I don’t think age is the deciding factor, more ability with regards to volume of output, so maybe Nevil Shute was having an off-day? I feel bad judging authors, writing a books is ghastly hard work, and maybe someone somewhere loved this, but even though I was interested in all the naval technical talk, the whole books felt like it had got off on the wrong foot. The more we got to know the wren, the sadder her death at the beginning of the book became. And of course, the other brother, he’s dead. And the returning son had his feet blown off. Of course being sad doesn’t make it bad, but quite a lot of pages felt a bit pointless, and time moved slowly.
I’ve read plenty of grim books, but they’ve often been riveting, but this was grim and also a little bit boring. And as if the downward trajectory of sadness from the first chapter isn’t bad enough, a dog dies. I know love and loss in the time of war is a fascinating subject, but please, does the dog really have to die?!