on 30 October 2009
This is the first book by Louis de Bernieres that I have read since Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and I thought that that was so good that he would not be able to write another book as fine. This is a completely different sort of book but it is outstanding, beautifully written with sympathy, sensitivity and humour. Although it is about an English village, it is more than just that weaving together English village life with laugh out loud comedy, great sadness, wonderful characters, magic, and all sorts of other elements that go to making up the goodness and badness of life. I had not intended to read the book immediately, but I casually picked it up read the first few sentences of the first story and was hooked. Louis de Bernieres reveals great knowledge and acute observation on village life, on everything from gardening clubs to fishing. Through the whole book larger philosophical issues run. Excellent!
An episode of Black Books had Bernard saying the words 'You'll laugh, you'll cry and it will change your life', at last I have found a book I can recommend in that way. I have read most of de Bermieres' books and up until now Birds Without Wings was my favourite. I think the reason I enjoyed this so much is because it is set in a part of England that I know and visited in my childhood. The early stories are hilarious and had me laughing out loud with their celebration of the English Village as it used to be. Later the stories take on a different tone as village life changes, children, whose families have lived there for generations can no longer afford to stay as the 'yuppy' generation forced up house prices. The last 2 stories in particular actually did make me cry. The village and characters became real people for me and I was sorry to say goodbye as I closed the book.
If you are a fan of de Bernieres then you won't be disapointed with this offering and if you haven't read him before then this would be a perfect starting point.
What a pleasant set of short stories from a master storyteller. I usually do not favour the short story genre , but as a fan of Mr. de Bernieres i had to buy it and i am glad that i did. This is not a serious work like Captain Corellis Mandolin or Birds Without Wings. It is more of the whimsical style of Red Dog with a lot of humour and likable, characters from a not so distant past.
It revolves around the inhabitants of the village of Notwithstanding and their inter-relationships. They could be very real people living at a time and in a way worth remembering for their class distinctions, their outmoded values , their amusing eccentricities and their honest decency.
The author uses a clever device whereby these characters make guest appearances in each others stories giving ,although there are about twenty different tales, a nice element of continuity leaving the reader feeling like part of this very rural, very English community.
A very worthwhile read.
I remember the big sensation created by Captain Corellis Mandolin (although never really got on with it myself) and was curious about Louis de Bernieres latest offering. I originally picked up this book a couple of years ago but didn't get on with it so thought I'd give it another go and am delighted that I did.
The book presents as a series of short stories (over 20) based in and around an English village created from the memories of the authors childhood. They are distinct short stories but the same characters pop up time and time again, often being mentioned briefly in one story then appearing as the main character in a later tale. The links beautifully weave the stories together and give the feeling that you are reading chapters of a complete novel but in manageable chunks.
Characters are a massive part of the book. Although they are all exaggerated and their situations overplayed, they give a wonderful pantomime feel to the book with the drama, pathos and humour all served up in buckets.
I particularly fell in love with the language that LdB uses. It's luxurious and deep, particularly when he is describing ordinary things such as grass or cobwebs. Also worth revelling in is the trivia scattered throughout, usually with no relevance to the plot but adding character and atmosphere. Often the same details appear in several stories, emphasising them but making them no more important to the plot!!
on 10 October 2009
Notwithstanding is not only the title of Louis De Bernieres latest book it is also really the biggest character in the book. Notwithstanding is a fictional village somewhere in Surrey, England not too far away from the very real Haslemere and Godalming. What the book actually entails is some of the unusual and interesting characters and the stories of what they get up to. It is in fact based on an English village that the author actually lived in when he was younger though this isn't a memoir it's a fictionalised version. It brings to life those English idylls that are very much still out there and celebrates the quirkiness of village life.
The characters are all marvellous in the novel. I say novel but in many ways it reads like a collection of short stories which is what it also is I suppose though characters intertwine with stories and so it comes together as a novel. You have the marvellous mother and son who communicate to each other via walkie talkie... in the same house, Polly Wantage who dresses like a man and spends most of her time out shooting squirrels, several mad dogs, a general who spends most of his time naked, a spiritualist who lives with her sister and ghost of her dead husband and people who confide their biggest secrets with spiders in their garden sheds. It is a huge amount of fun.
Though this isn't just a funny throw away book. Though there is endless humour the book has a real heart, celebrating the ordinary and delighting in the quirky nature of us English folk. The prose is beautiful and makes everything very vivid so in no time I felt like I had newly moved into the village and was `getting to know the neighbours' as it were. I could happily have moved there tomorrow. De Bernieres also experiments in less than 300 pages with various genre's of fiction, there is the comic side but we also have a historical tale of the village of old, a ghost story and a mystery.
There are also some tales which on the outside seem to be fun and light but read on and they become much darker and deeper. Two of the stories moved me greatly and one was incredibly sad. The one which hit me most was that of the naked general who ends up in Waitrose with no pants on, at first I was laughing away and then realised that this isn't a tale of a nudist but a tale of a widowed man who only has his dog for company and is undergoing the onset of Alzheimers. Not so funny then is it, yet in earlier tales its hilarious.
The tale that actually nearly made me cry on two levels was `Rabbit', which also appeared in a collection of shorts by Picador in 2001. This is the tale of friends walking through the fields to find a rabbit with myxomatosis which is described in detail (and is just upsetting) so one of the party decides to go get his gun and put it out of its misery. In doing so the act itself is so horrid to the elderly man it brings back all the killings he endured during his time in the war and even the mercy killing of a friend. A very clever, breathtaking and emotional tale told in just ten pages.
All in all a fanstactic funny, moving and engaing read that makes you laugh, think and possibly cry... oh and want to move to the nearest village as fast as you can.
on 29 December 2009
After a History teacher recommended De Bernieres's latest novel to me, I (ashamedly) had heard of neither his name, or his most famous novel, 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin'.
I have now been given a taste of De Bernieres's style; 'Notwithstanding' was a roller coaster of emotions, ranging from gut-wrenching depression to rejoicing nostalgia of past times.
For me, the message in this book is not one proclaiming a 'lost' England, never to return, but one which we can draw inspiration from to recreate the society which De Bernieries envisages as the rural ideal, centering on community involvement and a true "love they neighbour" spirit (you'll have to read the book first to find that line not cheesy). I feel eccentricity is England to De Bernieres; and he wrote this novel in order to try to share his childhood experiences with the reader.
Do not read this book in search of Blyton-esque romantic portrayals of innocent childhoods and life without the gory side. This book is, as far as I am concerned, one relating to brute honesty. Think of Jane Austen's 'stab-in-the-back' social commentary as a taster of what is to come...
A to-be classic which was a privilege to read.
on 28 April 2012
Louis de Bernières is one of my favourite authors and I have read all of his published books so far and in the case of the South American trilogy, re-read his books. Notwithstanding cannot strictly be called a collection of short stories as although each chapter is a little tale in itself, they are all linked somehow by the people or by the village he is describing. This village could be mine or any number of villages in our wonderful country. I even live next door to the smelly, crude farm worker so can easily relate that to Mr. Oak whom the author describes so well (as I recall, wet leather, cheese, dogs turnips and fish guts to name a few ingredients) and although Mr. Oak is a smelly and uncouth character, de Bernières has an uncanny ability to make you see the world and its people in a different way to the way one did before. Our stuffy retired military villagers are typical of those described as well as the poor naked shopper, the retired city chap who seeks genocide of moles by whatever method it takes in order to perfect a lawn that unfortunately for him backs onto a meadow, the spinster with a menagerie and the strange man who works on the hedge and ditch who makes an appearance throughout the book. Even the beautiful, vivacious young woman who died at too young an age from cancer is touchingly realistic and de Bernières reminds us of her many times as her life was intertwined with those left behind.
I absolutely loved the book and not simply because my village can relate to nearly all his characters but because it was 'charming' and so evocative of village life that I want people to read it so that they can attempt to understand what it is like to be slightly eccentric and why newcomers are not always able to fit in as easily as they expect to.
There are of course, laughs to be had but as with all de Bernières novels, there are many, many poignant and sad occasions where characters and animals do not have 'happy ever afters' but the final chapter was, for me at least, particularly memorable as a happy/sad moment and even now, when imagining the spinster in her youth, surrounded by all the animals she had loved during her life and being met by her fiancé brings tears to my eyes.
Typically brilliant de Bernières and as always, I look forward to reading the next book.
on 28 May 2016
I have a confession to make: I spent my childhood in the late 60s and early 70s about half-an-hour's drive away from the fictitious village of Notwithstanding's real-life inspiration (Wormley, south of Guildford and the Hog's Back.) So I was pre-disposed to enjoy these tales of a lost world of rhododendrons, shillings and English eccentrics.
'Notwithstanding' is a collection of inter-linked stories about the inhabitants of an English village: human, furred and feathered. Set mainly in the mid 20th century, the period details are perfect, with mention of motor cars such as the Austin Cambridge, the Morris Minor and the Hillman Imp (my mum had one of those - a green one!). The tone is whimsical and affectionate, with moments of quite dark humour.
While some stories inevitably work a little better than others, the whole is delightful, with some quite beautiful descriptive snippets and genuinely moving moments, particularly in the latter stories. 'Notwithstanding' is a homage to the village the author grew up in, and to the idiosyncrasies of the English character, as he says in the fascinating postscript: "We are rigid and formal in some ways, but we believe in the right to eccentricity, as long as the eccentricities are large enough... Woe betide you if you hold your knife incorrectly, but good luck to you if you wear a loincloth and live up a tree."
on 16 October 2013
This is another wonderful and evocative book by ldb. The subtly interwoven sketches of life and the characters of Notwithstanding are variously wistful, sad, funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking. Not a conventionally structured book, there is no 'story' as such, just a look back into a disappearing world and the colorful people who inhabited it. Very much recommended.
on 27 May 2011
At first I thought this was rather a light weight book, but it is the cumulative effect of all of the episodes that create its effect. The quality of the stories is not consistent, but they are all enjoyable. The book reaches its peak with several stories in the middle such as "footprint in the snow", "the happy death of the general" and at the end with "the broken heart" and "the death of miss Agatha Feakes". I thought "Rabbit" especially good. There are a couple stories of a lower standard, but they are pleasant enough and do not detract from the book as a whole.
I don't think this will suit everyone, and some may find it a little romantic and perhaps stereotyped - but I think it does capture a sort of life in the village that has now gone, often replaced by commuters pushing out traditional life and trying to make villages like little towns. I would not claim this is a profound book, but it is a very easy and enjoyable read and there is a wondefully light melancholy which builds across the whole book.