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Notwithstanding by Louis de Bernières


by Louis de Bernières

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A pleasant read but not one of the LDB's best. I came to him through his south American trilogy which I still think are his best work. ( )
  BertieB | Nov 12, 2014 |
This is a somewhat nostalgic set of short stories set in a Surrey village of de Bernieres' youth. The stories link together to some extent, with the same people appearing in some tales. Also in some cases you have a second story providing added information, or a different perspective, on events in an earlier story. Things are never quite what they seem though. At times tales are told set in a misty past, but it's not always clear that is the case immediately. There is a nostalgic feel to these, but it's not a rose tinted glasses nostalgia, there is a hard edge to them, or un undercurrent of something darker. A lot of them are quite sad and concern the passing of a way of life, or the passing of an older generation. The afterward makes clear that this feeling is how the author feels about the rural village of his youth - that it no longer is. Very different from his other work, but that's no bad thing - it works well. ( )
  Helenliz | Jul 29, 2014 |
Whimsical, somewhat magical, and superbly written. A collection of affectionate stories about an English village, which whilst not over sentimental, still glows with warmth and compassion. Light but delicious. ( )
  gbsallery | May 23, 2012 |
Louis de Bernieres has always been drawn to far-flung locations: Latin America, the Australian Outback, Greek islands. But in this beautiful collection of short stories he focuses his attentions closer to home, recalling the English village life of his childhood. Yet this work is no less exotic, strange and wonderful than his earlier books, featuring a whole cast of eccentric, melancholic and enjoyable characters. These stories twist between amusing tweeness and heart wrenching sadness. There are many funny moments but the overall tone is one of nostalgia for a world we have lost. Melancholy creeps in as the stories progress and the final tales deal with the loss of old village life: the death of the Notwithstanding's 'last true peasant' and the way in which second-home owners have now made it impossible for children to buy houses and settle in the village where they grew up.

Having grown up in a rural village myself I found myself nodding at many of the quirky details such as the way that people are known simply as "the owner of (insert dog's name here)" and the way, as De Bernieres writes in his afterword: "those who grow up loving the countryside do so in the same way they grow to love their parents" - frustrating at times but an irrevocable part of who you are. In fact, I've never known a writer capture the way I feel in that respect quite so perfectly. This a return to form for De Bernieres after the slightly lacklustre Partisan's Daughter. A bitter-sweet collection of stories to savour. ( )
  drrox | May 10, 2012 |
Though I found this a bit of an uneven mix of stories based around life in an English village from the days of lords of the manor to the 1960s, I thought that de Bernières did evoke well what it was like growing up in those times, both in reminding me of what was around then – such as du Maurier cigarettes – and in recalling the customs and expectations of an England just before everything changed. It was an England of regular church-going people, not that de Bernières is at all precious about this – he has the rector plagiarising his sermons and worrying about his faith while his congregation use the occasion to either comment on each other’s hats or eye each other up, depending on their age (‘Footprint in the snow’).

The exaggerations he employs add an amusing tone which usually accommodates his nostalgia, but some stories are too self-indulgent, like ‘This beautiful house’ where the narrator has conversations with his family who have all died in a house fire that he survived. At times, too, there’s an acrimonious tone about how England is no longer the place it used to be. While it’s easy to share the view of the major disappointed that his son ‘works in the City, pale and sleepless, conjuring money out of thin air, his mouth spewing out American business jargon, driving around in a Porsche instead of a real car’ (‘Rabbit’), the bitter nuances diminish the more positive aspect of his conjuring up a past England.

I think, in the end, it doesn’t quite work having what are clearly anecdotal recollections mixed with more apocryphal bits or at least parts which seem to be there to make a point. Of course, I guess most novels are made up o this sort of thing, but perhaps the repetition in the stories lays bare too obviously the feelings that de Bernières wants to share with the reader. ( )
  evening | Apr 15, 2012 |
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This book is dedicated to my children, Robin and Sophie. May they take their village with them wherever they go
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'I'm not in. Over'
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Welcome to the village of Notwithstanding where a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether, and a spiritualist lives in a cottage with the ghost of her husband. This book is a moving depiction of a charming vanished England.… (more)

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