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At the Going Down of the Sun by Elizabeth…
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At the Going Down of the Sun

by Elizabeth Darrell

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201515,329 (4.25)4

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After finally - finally - finishing this book, the first in a trilogy about the Sheridan family, I am torn between wanting to learn more about the author and her research, and demanding my money back for being conned into reading a family saga novel. The gist of the story - first published in 1984, and you can tell, despite the repackaging for Kindle - is the same three scenes over and over again, interspersed with actually quite realistic and haunting scenes from World War 1 (the only reason I downloaded a copy). Those same three scenes revolve around the reason I want my money back - the main characters, three self-obsessed brothers called Roland, Rex and Christopher Sheridan. Roland is the eldest, responsible and handsome, sort of a watered down Mr Knightley. He runs the family estate in Dorset, since Papa Sheridan moved abroad to grieve for his wife, and also acts as a surrogate father figure to his younger brothers, God help them. This, I think, is the problem with the three of them - until they find perfect wives and girlfriends, romancelandia style, they have only known each other. So Rex, the middle brother, is dashing, brave and handsome, and Chris the youngest is 'immensely intelligent' and handsome, with long-lashed violet eyes like a girl's. I am not kidding - if you regularly swallow this stuff and enjoy reading about a family of men who bemoan how damn good-looking they are, and drive through the village for the yokels to tug their forelocks in salute, then this is the stuff of dreams. I only felt ill, and took two weeks to finish reading.

A précis of the book runs as follows: Chris with the violet eyes and genius-level IQ gets a local girl pregnant and is forced to marry her. He spends a good few chapters bemoaning his fate - his life is ruined, he will never go to university, how very dare this girl get herself pregnant - before joining up almost as soon as war is declared, despite being blind as a bat without his glasses. Amnesia follows Gallipoli, ad nauseum. Rex is already a dashing and handsome pilot, so of course he joins the RFC and becomes a national hero with the unimaginative nickname of 'Sherry'. What does a dashing hero require but a flame-haired actress for a wife, so of course he finds one, and they are supposed to read like star cross'd lovers, but I wasn't convinced. They reminded me somewhat of Sir Percy and Marguerite Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel, only with copious amounts of sex instead of the self-sacrificing romance. Rex divides his time between risking his life in France and throwing big jealous tantrums in London, because his wife refuses to give up the stage. Boring old Roland holds off going to war at first - shock horror! - because he feels he that running the big house is duty enough, but a drawerful of white feathers finally packs him off into the medical corps (because of course he's a talented but unqualified doctor in his spare time). And that's the story - Chris, war, Rex, war, Roland, war, rinse, repeat. Three hundred pages fewer would have told the same tale in half the time.

I started placing bets on which of the brothers would die - or rather, who I wanted to kill off quickest - and almost got my wish. Only two out of three. Elizabeth Darrell - or Emma Drummond - writes the war scenes really well, which she would, given her background, although WW1 starts to sound like WW2 in places (also understandable). But I doubt she could have created three more irritating heroes had she tried. Why are they all handsome, rugged men? Why does everybody love them? I get the imagery about the effect of war upon English society, but lines like 'Deep within his soul he knew it was women who had ruined both Rex and Chris' and 'He is ruled by the fear that his mind is ridiculed and his body coveted by everyone in sight' tested even my reading stamina! ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jul 9, 2015 |
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