on 14 June 2004
Fifteen-year-old Barbary has spent the war years with her mother in the South of France. Together with her stepbrother Raoul she has been a member of the Maquis and has had hair-raising adventures. Her mother believes that Barbary had something to do with the death of her stepfather, who was suspected of collaborating with the Nazis. She sends Barbary to England to live with her father, Raoul is also sent to London to live with an uncle. Barbary is bewildered by the formality of life in England after the years runing wild with the Maquis. Her conventional father is baffled by her, and her insecure young stepmother resents her. She and Raoul explore the ruins left by the bombing, where they find a world inhabited by black marketeers and deserters, a world they understand, where the London police take the place of the Gestapo. Barbary longs to be reconciled with her mother, whom she adores, but it seems it is too late. This is an absolutely marvellous book, postwar London is brought vividly to life, the adventures of Barbary and Raoul among the ruins are gripping, and their complete incomprehension of the polite, formal and civilised people among whom they are forced to live is both comical and poignant.
on 27 January 2010
A beautiful and evocative story of two children's unsettled lives just after the Second World War in both France and Britain. One is aware throughout this book of the veneer of civilisation on the brink of collapse despite the `old school' trying to carry on usual. The atmosphere of Post-war Britain is evoked perfectly
Deeply affected by their exciting, peripheral activities with the Maquis in France the children become naughty and wicked, adept at pulling the wool over adults' eyes. In London, where they are sent to be supposedly smartened up and civilised, they ingenuously slip through the cracks of normality; lying, stealing and searching for their lost happiness in France where they were wild and free. Assuming things were the same in blitzed London as in France, they endanger their lives by living out a totally secret existence in an underworld peopled by deserters and small-time criminals at loose in the bombed-out sites of London.
Barbary tortures herself throughout with the guilty knowledge of her step father's drowning in France, carried out by the Maquis, which she could have prevented. In her soul she knows she let her father down.
This is a touching, atmospheric tale of a precocious seventeen-year-old lost in the world of adults and still needing the reassurances of childhood. It is today a possibly rather dated picture that can nevertheless still be related to those `young-at-sea' in our own - far from perfect - 21st Century.
on 26 April 2012
The World my Wilderness is a surprising, brutal but beautiful book set in the aftermath of the Second World War. The characters are fully -realized and the settings, particularly the ruins of London after the Blitz, are wonderful and terrifying. Macaulay writes with an incisive lack of sentimentality but with a real undertsanding of the human condition, love and hate. This would make a good companion read to Muriel Saprk's London books: The Bachelors, A far cry from Kensington etc. I also recommend Macaulay's book 'Towers of Trebizond' one of the best novels ever ( IMHO).
on 4 March 2010
This book is in some ways a commentary on -or a snapshot of- France and England as they were in 1946 when civilized life as they knew it had been destroyed and was now just reasserting itself. It is about the hauntingly beautiful and tragic ruins of ancient churches and halls bombed out round about St. Paul's. It is about the shades of grey of collaboration and right and wrong in the hatred and vengeance left by the occupation in Vichy France. Should you expect people to be rigidly good or bad?
Were all the collaborators bad and the Maquis always justified in the murders they committed?
Is adultery always to be condemned? What dark deeds haunt the heroine so much that she obsesses about Hell?
The heroine is a damaged young girl whose mother kept her in Vichy France during the War and then sends her back to her father - a thoroughly upper class Judge in bombed out London.
It is, as other reviewers have said both tragic and comic, but mainly it is Macaulay recording a unique time and place. - It captures exactly the same time and place that Muriel Spark did in Girls of Slender Means - but Spark wrote years later with hindsight. Macaulay wrote at the time about what she saw.
on 14 August 2012
This is my favorite Rose Macaulay - indeed it is one of my favorite books. The locations are my beloved France, which is my home, where I live, and central London, where my father was born, spent his childhood and his working life. The setting is just after the second world war when both these places were not so populated as they are now. The ruins of London after the blitz were left, became overgrown with vegetation and made a wild place with the wonderful romantic place names that Rose Macaulay obviously loved - Coachmakers Hall, Cheapside, Aldermanbury, Monkwell Street, St. Olave's churchyard, Noble Street, Falcon Square, St. Giles Cripplegate, Addle Street, Brewers' Hall. The story is that of Helen, a big, beautiful highly intelligent woman who has been the wife and mistress of several men, and her wild seventeen year old daughter Barbary - what a wonderfully evocative name. Helen does not understand the conventions of the time, is not aware of them, while Barbary comes up against them finds them repellent and I am afraid pays the price. However everything turns out as it should, and the future will be good for everyone. Brilliantly written, highly acclaimed by some of the top reviewers of the time I cannot fault it, for me it is perfection.