A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry,
Faber & Faber, £12.99.
A Long Long Way tells the story of Willie
Dunne, an Irish builder’s apprentice and
volunteer in Kitchener’s Army, who enrols
in the Dublin Fusiliers at the beginning of
the First World War.
The battlefields of Belgium and France
are a well-worn theme for novelists, but
what makes Sebastian Barry’s book so
fascinating is that it brilliantly explores,
through the experiences of this young
Irishman, the divided loyalties that many
Irish soldiers endured.
While thousands of Irishmen were
fighting in Flanders, partly in the erroneous
belief that their actions would lead to Home
Rule, many of their countrymen were
taking part in the Easter Rising.
Indeed, 30,000 were to lose their lives
fighting for the King of England on foreign
fields. For these brave Irishmen who
believed that they were fighting a just war
against the Germans, events back home led
to bitter resentment and incomprehension.
Willie himself, an uneducated 17 yearold,
has little knowledge of politics, but finds
himself embroiled in a world of uncertainty
and self-doubt. This book is a haunting
reminder of those thousands of Irishmen
whose bravery and sacrifice in the Great
War has too often been consigned to the
footnotes of an overwhelmingly nationalist
narrative of Irish history.
The author brilliantly captures the sheer
destruction and indiscriminate slaughter
that takes place over the muddy and barbed
wired landscapes of Flanders, the Somme
and Ypres. Barry, who is also a poet and
well-known playwright, has clearly done
Yet his greatest achievement is his ability
to develop his characters from Willie Dunne
to the battalion’s priest, Father Buckley. He
evokes the camaraderie and humour of the
regiment, while poignantly detailing Willie
Dunne’s lost family life back in Dublin,
through his memories and brief home leaves.
It charts this young man’s coming of age,
his leaving behind of his sweetheart Gretta,
and the effect the war has on his relationship
with his stern but loving father, a policeman
and implacable loyalist. This cannot be
recommended as a feel-good book, but it
is beautifully and emotively written with
human value and true pathos.
Farewell but not Goodbye by Bobby
Robson, Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99.
Sporting autobiographies can often
disappoint, but Bobby Robson’s
reminiscences of his extraordinary career
as a player and manager make excellent
reading. Few managers have inspired such
popularity. Renowned for his passion,
hard work and sense of fair play, along
with a unique ability to get the best out
of some of the world’s most illustrious
players, Robson has been English football’s
most successful living manager.
Brought up in the mining towns of the
North East, he began his professional life
as an apprentice electrician in the mines of
Langley Park at the age of 15. Not long after,
his prodigious football talent was recognised
with a move to Fulham in 1950, followed
later by West Bromwich Albion in 1956.
It is a true rags-to-riches story and
Robson never forgets his roots – a fact that
becomes all too evident by his excitement
at taking the job of manager of Newcastle
United. Clearly his subsequent sacking from
St James’ Park still rankles.
Bobby Robson’s ability as a player was
recognised with 20 caps for England, but it
was in the field of football management
that he really shone. He was given his
opportunity at Ipswich, where he carved
out remarkable success over 13 years.
The unusual and eccentric nature of the
club and its chairman provide some highly
amusing anecdotes, but it is his memories of
his time as England manager that the majority
of readers will find most interesting. He
relives leading England through two World
Cups, which were to witness such epic
incidents as the ‘Hand of God’ and the
agony of coming within a penalty kick
of the 1990 World Cup final. Written
with Paul Hayward, chief sports writer
of The Daily Telegraph, this autobiography
reads very well and is a must for all sports fans.
Kipling by Jad Adams, Haus Books,
£16. ISBN 1904950191.
Rudyard Kipling was the greatest writer
in a Britain that ruled the largest empire the
world has known. Yet despite his astonishing
body of work, he was a figure who courted
controversy, as deeply hated as he was loved.
In 1907 he won the Nobel Prize for
Literature, but by the time of his death 30
years later, he had widely fallen out of public
favour. It is testament to Kipling’s great talent
that much of his work has retained its appeal
in modern times, although perhaps not to the
extent it had at the turn of the last century,
when his stories commanded huge prices
from American magazines.
Books such as The Jungle Book and poems
like If are still widely admired – indeed the
latter is regularly voted the nation’s favourite
poem. Arguably, though, his greatest works
were his short stories, which include the
remarkably moving They and such epic
yarns as The Man who would be King.
This sympathetic but honest biography
explores Kipling’s private life, including his
frustrated early loves, his family quarrels and
the mental illness of his sister and wife which
was to curse his middle years. Much of his
work was richly biographical.
As a child, he was cruelly abandoned and
abused, and this experience led him to create
some of the most enduring children’s
characters ever written in Mowgli and Kim.
He had a deep affinity with children and
never fully recovered from the loss of two
of his three children at tragically young ages.
In particular, his encouragement of his
son John to join the army at the outbreak
of the Great War, where he was killed in
action, played a major role in his increasing
cynicism and in the decline of his literary
output in later years.
Jad Adams is particularly interesting in
highlighting the complexities of Kipling’s
character. Indeed, despite being labelled as
a misogynist, few writers have written more
warmly about middle-aged women, and
although many of Kipling’s detractors accuse
him of racism, no other artist of the time
wrote with such intimacy of native life.
At the end of this short but illuminating
work, readers will no doubt be divided
as to their thoughts about the man, but
united in their admiration of his remarkable
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