This story features Hal the Major in the British army in Cyprus, in the 1950s against the uprising of local organised gangs. His wife Clara comes to join him with their two young daughters. She tries to settle into life firstly in the town and then at the Garrison.
Their are various sub stories here, theres the affair that threatens to happen but never really kicks off, theres a lot of ignoring each others feelings and not talking about things that would mental scar anyone let alone it happening on a regular basis.
Clara is sent away to a city by her husband, and its then that the trouble really starts for her. For Hal he has already been battling with his own issues alone, and trying to win a war that cannot be won.
The book is written in the thoughts of the two characters, as well as a few others like the translator Davis, who never really has a chance to get going with his big issue.
There are a few gory scenes so its not suitable for children. It kept me amused for a few days, but it wasnt an easy read and it didnt flow well. I had to keep stopping as I found myself getting bored with some of the descriptions.
I thought that this book was a good read overall. However it kept jumping around to different areas, storylines and characters. It was hard to keep track of all the army events as there was too much description of army processes and the soldiers work. It would have been better to keep it more about Clara, her friends and experiences and there could have been more build up to the story at the end (which I wont say as its a spoiler).
In hardback this costs £12.99.
I would recommend this to people who enjoy a story about middle class 1950s families, people with interest in the army and those who enjoyed Sadie Jones' other book The Outcast.
Set for the most part in Cyprus in the 1950s, "Small Wars" follows the Trehernes - Major Hal and his wife Clara and their two young daughters - newly arrived from Germany where Hal had previously been stationed. Hal had acquitted himself well there and been promoted to the rank of major, primarily due to his organisational skills and ability to communicate effectively with both his men and the local people; it was his great disappointment in his military career so far that he had seen no action and, with his transfer to Cyprus, Hal hoped to finally become a real soldier. But for both Clara and Hal the experience becomes an ordeal that tests both of them to their limits. Clara, feeling increasingly isolated as Hal's duties take him away for days at a time, sees the war at first hand in spite of the family having moved into the British Army compound on the grounds of higher security but she does her best to support her husband and puts on a brave face. Hal, meanwhile, is forced to choose between his beloved army and what he knows is right when a junior officer, one not attached to his own regiment but who feels he can trust Hal, approaches him to discuss a serious incident he has witnessed.
"Small Wars" is a beautifully written novel that, amazingly, outshines Sadie Jones's excellent debut, the best selling "The Outcast". Still there is the obvious flair for dialogue and expertise in character development but this time Jones has placed her characters against a fascinating backdrop, which she evokes with considerable skill. Her ability to match her characters with place and time is enviable and I particularly loved the supporting female characters, even if Clara is a little pale and under-developed by comparison. Jones depicts the "little England" of the military compound and the smoky bar where the officers' wives sit drinking "white ladies" and playing cards with an intense accuracy and acutely observed dialogue to match; I can't think of another novel set in the 1950s that evokes the period so vividly.
Readers need not have an in depth knowledge of the "Emergency" period in Cyprus; Jones doesn't present a potted explanation of the background to the situation, preferring instead to use the dialogue to fill in the gaps, a device that works rather well because it allows the story to flow naturally and explains as much as the story demands so that it doesn't become bogged down in historical detail. Jones conveys the horrors endured in Cyprus by the servicemen and their families with grim realism, made even more difficult to stomach with the stifling heat and the goldfish bowl mentality of the compound where everyone knows your business and to show emotion is a sign of weakness.
If I had to make any criticism of this remarkably fine novel, it would be that two interesting characters - Davis, the conscript who approaches Hal to report the incident, and to a lesser extent the Turkish girl who helps with the Treherne children - fade into the background in the second half of the story and much more could have been made of them. Davis in particular is a fascinating character: he's in Cyprus only because it was learned when he enrolled for National Service that he had graduated in Ancient Greek. Davis finds army life harder than most; a confirmed academic, he doesn't fit in with the other officers and as he is exposed more and more to the terrible events that transpired in Cyprus, he becomes more withdrawn and isolated. His story becomes rather interesting but that promise isn't played out which is a real let down.
Similarly, the Turkish nanny, a Muslim girl who speaks no English, appears initially to be about to play an important part in the story but is insufficiently developed and disappointingly fades in and out of the story. Clara seems to have a problem with the girl, something that Hal picks up on, but this interesting detail is not elaborated on.
Still, these are minor flaws and "Small Wars" is a fine read. Can Sadie Jones better this? I really do look forward to finding out.
Small Wars is Sadie Jones's second novel and if you enjoyed her writing style in the Outcast then I believe you will enjoy this book too. She really seems to capture the restrained emotions of the middle classes in the 1950s. Small Wars is the story of Clara and Hal Treherne and their family. Hal is a newly promoted Major in the British Army who is posted to Cyprus in the late 1950s at the time of rebellion by the Greek Cypriot population seeking independence.
I know very little about the conflict and wouldn't say that the book dwelled much on the history of the island and indeed I found some of the strategic and military detail a bit dull but that aside the book was engrossing. Clara struggles to find her feet when she arrives in Cyprus and devotes herself to the couple's young twin daughters and the stresses of Hal's job as the army tackles insurgency by hostile locals impact greatly on their relationship and so much is left unsaid by the couple.
I don't want to say too much about events in the book as this would spoil your enjoyment but would say the book is above all a love story and would highly recommend it.
I found it very difficult to slot 'Small Wars' into any category. An analysis of the pre-war years when silence was manly and honour was paramount? A love story? A description of the hidden horrors of war? Or a moving combination of all three?
The book starts in a traditionally romantic way. Hal Treherne is a newly commissioned soldier, passing out of Sandhurst and falling in love with Clara, the quiet sister of his best friend. Both the children of established military families, the match seems made in heaven and as Hal's golden military career progresses, he finds himself in Cyprus during the heat of the battle as EOKA terrorists are fighting for independence from Britain and union with Greece. Clara and their twin daughters follow dutifully to join them in the island's military community; to a life of White Ladies in the Club, picnics on the beach and formal dinners with the Colonel.
Both Hal and Clara know their roles in life; Hal has to be the strong husband, the strong leader, the protector - unflinching in the face of action, commanding and unhesitating in the face of carnage. Clarissa has to be the dutiful wife, not showing fear, supporting her husband at all times, smiling through threat and always being the calm presence that Hal comes back to after the horrors of war.
Their traditional lives have never prepared them for the decisions that are to come. A young and sensitive Lieutenant, Lawrence Davis, is the academic translator who should never have been part of this particular war. Horrified by the atrocities and torture that he sees committed by British soldiers and needing to unburden himself, he goes to the one person that he looks up to and trusts; Hal. Hal himself is starting to become destroyed by the death and violence that he sees around him, haunted by the smell of burning flesh, he is unable to unburden himself to Clarissa, and a void grows up between them, heavy with the weight of unspoken secrets. This final secret is too much for the relationship, and sends it spiralling out of control. The resolution, both of the marriage and the secrets that Hal bears, bring everything he has been brought up to believe into doubt, and to make him betray everything.
Sadie Jones ' very well received first novel was 'The Outcast', written in 2008, and this novel evoked exactly the same sense of frustration and anger in me. Jones is expert at depicting the repression of middle class 1950s - a time when it was unmanly to tell other people the truth about your feelings, and defending your honour seemed to have exactly the opposite effect. Although I have no evidence about this, I feel that Jones depicts the strange conventions of the time with enormous realism. I found myself shouting "tell him, just tell him the truth" throughout the story - but this was not the way of the 1950s. One kept a stiff upper lip and coped.
The strength of the writing is in the characterisation. The scenes that Jones creates, with all of their repression and superficiality, capture the essence of the time in an uncanny way. Some of the issues surrounding war and the behaviour of the British military are still very, very current - and I was honestly shocked at some of the descriptions. Moments of shocking brutality creep up on the reader out of the blue, and the horror feels very genuine. In tandem with descriptions of bloody battle, the seemingly innocuous social life of the wives makes a stark contrast, but Sadie Jones has the skill to let the reader in underneath the banality - where every social chit chat covers up a deep loneliness and panic, and the wives play their parts to perfection; Stepford wives who always nurture, welcome, support - never show anger or despair but keep the façade of civilised family life constant. In the military world of the 1950s civilised behaviour is paramount - don't stir the waters Old Chap, just pretend you haven't noticed.
Like 'The Outcast' this novel explores themes of duty, shame, and ostracism from society. It was only at the end of the book, once I had rid myself of the strong emotions that I was forced into by the plot that I realised that the characters were very real to me, and that the story would stay with me for a long time.
Small Wars was published in paperback by Vintage in 2010.
It has 472 pages, ISBN: 9780099540526