Monday, 2 April 2012

Swept Away On A Tide Of Detail

One of the things I'm enjoying very much about the 2012 Orange Prize long list is the sheer variety of historical novels that have been selected. I'm a huge fan of the genre & it's great to see it producing so many beautifully written books. I was really looking forward to Stella Tillyard's " Tides of War" as it's set in a historical period that interests me greatly, Regency England at the time of the Napoleonic wars.
  The 2 main protagonists are Harriet & James, a newly married couple. James is pursuing a career as an army officer & is seconded to serve under the Duke of Wellington (Lord Wellington for most of the book) during the Peninsular war in Spain.This leads to an introduction for Harriet to Kitty, Lady Wellington & to new avenues of exploration, both in life & love. James, experiencing the horrors of war & the mad passion of a wild love affair, is also changing. As the story moves from Spain to England & back again we meet a large cast of characters who are experiencing a world on the brink, where everything is altering. There are new social mores, exciting inventions, new ways of relating.  Every level of society is caught up in these changes, both for better & worse, All the characters find themselves living lives they could never have imagined, making choices about who they want to be & how they want to live. For many of them the choices they make lead  to happiness, this is not the case for all.
Stella Tillyard is best known as a historian & this is her first novel. I really wanted to like the book but, in the end, I was left disappointed. My feeling is that the sheer weight of historical detail ultimately overwhelmed the characters & left them feeling rather two dimensional. You do get a really clear view of life at this period but at the expense of being caught up in the story & really caring about the people living it. I'm afraid that is a basic requirement for me, sadly, the book just didn't deliver.

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