June 30, 2010

Small Wars - Sadie Jones

Small Wars was my first read while on holidays - in some ways a strange choice given it's topic area of war and trauma but the writing seemed to flow for me as soon as I opened it so I just kept reading.

I have not read Jones' other (and first) novel, The Outcast but I would be interested to hear from people who have read both about their opinions of the two when compared to each other.

Small Wars is set mainly in Cyprus in the mid 1950's during "The Emergency" when the British are defending the colony against the local Cypriot population who are wanting to join with Greece. I must admit that this is a time in history that I did not have much knowledge about prior to reading the novel and I thought the author did a good job of setting the era and putting a picture in the readers mind of what it might have been like to be a British Military Officer on the island at this time. The perspective of what a local Cypriot might have been was possibly lacking for me but I can see that this might not have been the main focus of the novel.

The main characters are Major Hal Treherne and his wife Clara, Hal has recently been transferred to Cyprus and he sees the move as a positive one for his career and job satisfaction. Clara is less happy about moving to an area of conflict and trauma with their two young daughters and her difficulties in settling in to the local and army community are well described. The scenes involving direct battle and gunfire are also well written I thought and the personal conflicts engaged in by both Hal and some of the other soldiers are also portrayed well - I especially thought this in relation to a scene where Hal sits with one of his men after he is severely injured - an event that strongly returns to him in many ways after the event.

Even with all of this excellent writing and background I still did not feel completely connected to the novel or the characters - in some ways I felt like I was reading a screenplay for a movie - the words were there but I couldn't always feel the connection. I would be really interested to hear if others who have read this book have felt a similar way or if it is just me?? As a mental health professional I have worked in the area of trauma and grief and loss counselling for over 10 years now and I know I have developed strong self-care skills in this area and I am wondering if I started to operate on this level of "self protection" as soon as I started to read this book and identify its themes??

Despite these thoughts I did think this was a well written, strong novel and I think I will move on to The Outcast soon.


Unknown said...

I struggled to connect with the emotions in Small Wars too. It all felt so passive and I ended up not caring what happened to any of the characters.

I thought The Outcast was a much better book - I connected with the characters and while it wasn't the best book in the world it was an enjoyable read.

Iliana said...

I've heard great things about The Outcast and it's one I would love to get to soon. You'll have to tell us what you think of Outcast.

Karen said...

Hi Jackie - it sounds like we had very similar thoughts about this one!

Hi Iliana - I will do!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I'm reading a similar book at present which has that 'disconnected' feel (Brick Lane by Monica Ali). I think I might leave Small Wars at the store until I've read The Outcast sometime in the future. Thanks for the review :)

Karen said...

Hi samstillreading - I understand what you mean, I ended up not being able to finish Brick Lane because of that feeling.

SoulMuser said...

I agree so much - I could not 'connect' with Hal. The Outcast was much better...in Small Wars, I was just trying to reach the end of it.

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