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The Introduction A sequel to A Soldiers Return, A Son Of War is not a complex book or one with spectacular narrative; instead, it relies of the intricate characters and Melvyn Bragg’s unique style of literature to drive it. The text is something which when read inspires many emotions and also up-rises certain political feelings. It is a tale of self-belief, despair, but also the restraints that circumstance can have on the most inspired of personalities. The Plot In Son Of War, Bragg immediately launches the reader into the personal life and beliefs of Sam, a Second World War veteran returning home to a job in a paper factory. The strain of the Second World War has not only left Sam emotionally shattered but also a rift between him and his wife, Ellen is eventually being established. After being the sole carer for their son Joe, Ellen realises that her marriage to Sam is too fragile, and an inevitable breakage is looming. Sam, however doesn’t want to tempt the situation, instead he focuses on his dream of becoming his own boss and a successful entrepreneur. Joe – An Introspective Interpretation Joe is the embodiment of the confusion and the contrasting personalities between Sam and Ellen. The differing interests that the couple have in Joe just illustrate the fact that the dreams and ambitions the two are harbouring are complete opposites. Sam wants Joe to become a ‘hard man’, someone who will protect his father in his old age. In his absence, Sam feels that Joe has become a ‘mummy’s boy’, in retaliation, Ellen counteracts Joe’s boxing encouragements with her own dreams for Joe. She insists Joe invests his time in more constructive activities such as piano and dancing lessons. Caught in the middle, Joe experiences and emotional roller coaster. The Narrative The narrative is rather dilute, rather than intense narrative, the story is almost told in
chronology. The tale of a couple and a son struggling to cope after the evils of war, which have ripped them apart. It is more than relieving to see that Bragg has not sold out to the over dramatic theme which seems to accompany a lot of post war dramas, instead, A Son Of War is filled with realism and genuine despair. Although there are not many truly intense scenes, the ones which occur are not just simple excuses to provide the reader with a cheap thrill, instead they leave lasting scars in the psyche of the characters which sees their personalities evolving; perhaps the most important point to note is that Bragg incorporates the readers thoughts with objects and conversations they can relate with. Political Introductions If the original plot of consenting deceit wasn’t enough, the Bragg has managed to incorporate a sub-plot of fear and political unrest. Fear is a very powerful subject to implant into a novel, it can make or break the novel, and I believe that A Son Of War sees the ideal use of fear. The novel is not based around its presence but with the coming of the hydrogen and atom bomb, fear is evident in the hearts of all the characters, and despite their course personalities, Bragg makes it clear that fear is the one thing that they all have in common. Style Of Literature The literature that Bragg has decided to pursue is rather complex. But by this I do not mean words filled with complexity nor particularly detailed metaphors and similes. Bragg has described the different emotions involved in the characters lives in a style of literature, which continuously fluxes between the beautiful dramatic proses to the more realistic backdrop with which the story originates. All this makes for a novel, which flows, a novel, which inspires and one, which provides a truly enriching, read. Conclusion A Son Of War is magnificent novel, which presents a fresh style of literature, which I have rarely seen, impli
cated before. From the discontent of Joe, to the frustrations of Ellen, to the regrettable circumstances, which have launched Sam into his current predicament, Bragg stays true to the realism of the pot war atmosphere. If it is not just the inhabitants that realise the tension during these years, then it is the atmosphere itself. It comes alive and raptures you in its deceptive scent to create Braggs world brick by brick, word by word around you.
I previously reviewed on this site, Melvyn Bragg's opening book in this series, The Soldier's Return - the fact that I was reading Melvyn Bragg was in some quarters treated with derision. Melvyn Bragg is not a "cool" author; in fact, I have the distinct impression that he is one of those authors's that many people wrinkle their nose at, without having read at all. Maybe it is because he appears somewhat pretentious on some of his arty TV programmes; maybe it is because he is now in the House of Lords. Who knows - what I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed The Soldier's Return, so much so that when the sequel, A Son of War was released in paperback, I was quick to purchase it. Before these two books, Bragg had not only from traditional readers, but from the critics as well, been scorned and ridiculed - but if you were one of those people, think again - The Soldier's Return has been much praised and won the WH Smith Literary award, A Son of War has also met with praise from the critics and is going to meet with praise from me to boot. Bragg, himself was bought up in Wigton, Cumbria and like its predecessor The Soldier's Return, A Son of War is set in Wigton, Cumbria in the post Second World War landscape. Bragg has made no secret that this was no coincidence, Joe Richardson the boy of the story, is clearly and admittedly an auto-biographical Bragg and the mother and father of the story, Ellen and Sam also have an auto-biographical spine to them. Bragg has himself admitted in interviews that it was his father's death that sparked the drive to write, a provincial fictional series, based on his own upbringing and that is what he has done. A Son of War sees Sam settling for a job in a paper factory and attempting to put the horrors of Second World War Burma behind him. The change the war bought to the family is still hanging over them, like a guillotine ready to separate husband and wife and leave
a puzzled and confused boy, in even more of a tangle. Sam has dreams of being his own boss and making something of himself, Ellen is tied to the town like a daughter to her mother's apron strings and Joe is growing up, experiencing life. Joe was eight at the end of The Soldier's Return and in this book we see him experience his early teenage years, up to his O levels. Ellen, is just as confused, she loves Sam, but he is not the same man that left for combat and she as a result of bringing the boy up on her own for so long, is not the same woman - but she knows how fragile the marriage is and knows what Sam gave up for her when he decided to stay. The two parents want what is best for Joe, but Sam fears that Joe in his prolonged absence has turned into a "mammy's boy" and to compensate Sam tries to bring Joe out of himself, with encouragement to box and stand up for himself. Whereas Ellen seeks a gentler life for Joe, with piano and dancing lessons - imagine the ridicule that Joe has to endure from his peers! There is little real narrative to this book, it is the tale of a family trying to get on and a boy trying to grow up, it is a tale that must have echoed round thousands of homes in post war Britain. It is, stripped down to its bare bones a simple chronology of post war family life - where moments of drama and tension are tiny, domestic and realistic - but for the people involved internally shattering events. But that is part of the appeal, the gritty realism of the events and the struggles. What does drive the book therefore is emotion, the shifting sands of the characters relationships, the accommodations and relinquishing, by mother and father of their own wishes so that they can try and provide a stable and good upbringing for Joe - where he will have chances that were denied to them. Of course there are other characters in the book: girls who Joe starts to have strange feelings for; Ellen's half-brother (an
other source of friction in the marriage); Joe's friends, in particular Speed whose father had a breakdown after the war and as a result runs wild; Sam's old comrades in Burma; and the usual tapestry of town characters. Built into what narrative there is, are the fears of everyday people of the period: the threat of communism and socialism (debates as to whether the latter is was a threat or a blessing ""Nye Bevan" said Mr Kneale, whose fair mindedness in all such matters would never be compromised, "will turn out to be as great a man of peace as Winston Churchill was the war""); and the coming of the atom and hydrogen bomb and the linked fear of yet another global conflagration. What A Son of War conveys excellently are the emotions and turmoil of a young lad growing up. Bragg seems to have remembered and then captured how a young boy's life can be a minefield of fears, secrets and panics - but to the adult these fears and panics can seem petty and ridiculous. Similarly to John Grisham's excellent, A Painted House, Bragg has captured the essence of that part of childhood, the transformation from child to hormone filled teenager, the angst, the insecurities and the feeling that every other child is fine except for you. What shone through to me, is that kids are kids, no matter what the age, a kid of 1955, is very much the same as a kid of 1985 - I could relate to Joe and his fears and he seemed to echo the turbulence and insecurity of my own childhood of that time. The adults in the story, especially Sam's parents are reserved and stoical, accepting their lot, quietly and in dignity - in today's society people like Sam's parents may be more likely to run straight to one of those TV shows, to tell all how the world has cheated them of their dreams. In tune with the surroundings of the novel, this book uses an understated simplistic writing style, local dialect and slang, whils
t flowery descriptions are shunned. Feelings and emotions are conveyed to the reader as much, by what is left out of the dialogue than by what is included. But despite, the simplicity of the prose, A Son of War is not fast paced; it meanders along like most people's lives. I found A Son of War, to be equal in quality to The Soldier's Return - perhaps not as profound on the impact of war on all stratums of society and therefore not quite as philosophical. To me one of the major differences is that in The Soldier's Return it was Sam that drove the book, whereas this time it is the boy, Joe. However, it was for me a nice relaxed read, echoing a time of Britain's social history that is becoming a distant echo. Very soon there will be no one alive who was either born in the immediate aftermath of the war, or who had reached adult hood in that era. To that end, I can see, much as some of Orwell's novels are excellent at conveying social history of their era (especially The Road to Wigan Pier) these books will themselves be useful at conveying what real people were like in that post war period. A Son of War is intelligent, moving and very easy to read - it is about how ordinary people are all heroes in their own little way and I thoroughly recommend it. A perfect summer read, not heavy going, not lacking in depth - just right for a perfect lazy afternoon in the sun. Published by Sceptre: priced £6.99 (although currently in amazon.co.uk's summer sale at half price): 426 pages long: ISBN 0-340-81816-6. Further details can be found at Sceptre's web site - www.madaboutbooks.com.
Joe Richardson is getting to know his father, who recently returned from the war and is trying to rebuild his own identity as well as shape that of his son. Joe is the most important thing to his parents but can they put him on the path to happiness when they're not sure how to be happy themselves?