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Olivia Manning (1908–1980)

Author of The Balkan Trilogy

26+ Works 3,167 Members 106 Reviews 16 Favorited

About the Author


Works by Olivia Manning

The Balkan Trilogy (1960) 1,109 copies
The Levant Trilogy (1982) 670 copies
School for Love (1951) 274 copies
The Great Fortune (1960) 221 copies
The Doves of Venus (1955) 155 copies
The Spoilt City (1962) 117 copies
Friends and Heroes (1965) 109 copies
The Play Room (1969) 95 copies
The Wind Changes (1937) 66 copies
The Danger Tree (1977) 64 copies
The Rain Forest (1974) 63 copies
The Sum of Things (1980) 59 copies
The Battle Lost and Won (1978) 55 copies
Fortunes of War [1987 TV mini series] (2005) — Screenwriter — 34 copies
Virago Omnibus I (1986) — Contributor — 13 copies
A Romantic Hero (1794) 12 copies
Extraordinary Cats (1967) 7 copies
A Different Face (1957) 6 copies
The Dreaming Shore (1950) 5 copies
Romanian Short Stories (1971) — Editor — 3 copies

Associated Works

Northanger Abbey (1817) — Introduction, some editions — 21,622 copies
Women and Fiction: Volume 2 (1978) — Contributor — 73 copies
Women Writing: An Anthology (1979) — Contributor — 12 copies
Penguin Modern Stories 12 (1972) — Contributor — 8 copies


20th century (90) 20th century literature (19) Balkans (87) British (56) British literature (30) Bucharest (21) Eastern Europe (31) ebook (20) Egypt (56) England (23) English (34) English fiction (20) English literature (85) expats (18) fiction (577) Greece (55) historical (18) historical fiction (136) history (30) Jerusalem (20) literature (56) marriage (44) Middle East (54) novel (163) NYRB (69) NYRB Classics (31) Olivia Manning (21) omnibus (24) read (17) Romania (88) to-read (143) trilogy (21) UK (21) unread (15) Virago (39) Virago Modern Classics (44) VMC (24) war (62) women (17) WWII (294)

Common Knowledge



Virago Monthly Reads: October 2018: Olivia Manning in Virago Modern Classics (February 2019)


Re-visited 2024 (this time in a radio adaptation, narrated by Joanna Lumley). Wonderful and sometimes satirical evocation of being a newly-married wife trailing her eng-lit teacher husband around Europe, trying to keep ahead of Nazi invasion.

Harriet is loyal to her husband, but increasingly exasperated by his neglect when it becomes apparent his time and loyalty belong seemingly to everyone else first. Guy is a good man, but myopic in every sense of the word.

Great characterisations & sense of being an ex-pat at that time in history. Loosely based on Olivier Manning’s own experiences in Europe during the war.… (more)
LARA335 | 30 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |
Extraordinarily good and coherent account of chaotic events, pieced together from diaries, memoirs and Stanley’s doubtful lectures. Some traditional views on the character of Egyptians, Sudanese, Zanzibaris and Arabs could not be even quoted today. Stanley died of a stroke in 1904. Emin Pasha was less fortunate. In 1890 he was dealt with in a village 80 miles South of Stanley (Boyoma) Falls “Four men held him down upon the floor while Mamba (and Arab captain) slit his throat. His head was cut off, put in a box, and sent to Kibonge (the chief of the Manyuema slavers). His grave was never discovered. His men were killed and eaten by the Manyuema.”… (more)
mnicol | Aug 14, 2023 |
Stillbirth, Al-Bustan,
april164 | Aug 5, 2023 |

Olivia Manning continues her semi-autobiographical novels of her and her husband's WWII experiences. An English professor, who was conscripted with his new bride at the outbreak of the war, the couple is sent to Romania to work for The English Institute. After living there for more than a year, they are routed by threats of the Germans advancing on Bucharest, and sent with other English community refugees to Greece. Then, with the Germans arrived on their doorstep, they are sent on flea-and-vermin-infested, rust-bucket ships to Cairo. Guy, Harriet's husband, reports to the English embassy, but, his boss having disappeared, there is no work for him. Harriet is forced to take a job, and, finding temporary work at the American embassy, she finds her boss pleasant enough to work with. I would not have liked my boss to take such liberties with me as Harriet/Olivia did, but when you are young and vain, I suppose you allow men to do things that a later, more mature woman would think of as inappropriate:
"mr. Buschman, a young married man, neatly built, not tall, with a flat, pale, pleasant face, was both fatherly and flirtatious with Harriet. He once tried to span her waist with his hands and nearly succeeded. Then he measured it with a tape and said, '22 in. I like that.' he asked her what she weighed. When she said 'Seven Stone,' he worked it out and said, 'exactly 100 lb. I like that, too.' "

Life in Cairo, with so many from the imperialist community stuck there, cut off by the war, with their money gone, and apparently no urge to look for work, can be strange. Harriet, often deserted by her forever too-busy-to-hang-out-with-his-wife husband, is befriended by the rich, divorced wife of Lord Hooper. Every night they go to drink in one or another hang-out of the English exiles. It makes one wonder how they lasted as long as they did, drinking hard liquor nightly, and smoking. indeed, Bill Castlebar, a poet, enjoying the absence of his wife, is taken up by Lady H. He is a chain-smoker:
"castlebar did not argue. Taking whiskey into his mouth, he held it there, moving it around his gums in ruminative appreciation, then let it slide slowly down his throat. After this, he went through his usual ritual of placing a cigarette packet squarely in front of him, one cigarette propped ready to hand so there need be no interval between smokes. As he concentrated on getting the cigarette up right, Angela smile indulgently. All set, he raised his thick, pale eyelids and they exchanged a long, meaningful look."

Supported in his vices by Lady Hooper, who has become infatuated with Castlebar, he quickly forgets what it's like to be penniless, and thrown on the kindness of those with money:
"the next night cookson thought he could go further: he brought a friend. He knew several people in Cairo whom no one else wanted to know and one of these was a youth who had no name but Tootsie. Before the war Tootsie had come on holiday to Egypt with his widowed mother. The mother had died, her pension had died with her and Tootsie, cut off by war from the rest of the world, wandered around, looking for someone to keep him. The sight of Tootsie lurking behind cookson caused castlebar to lower his eye tooth. He made a noise in his throat like the warning growl of a guard dog about to bark.
cookson, aware of danger, paused nervously, then made a darting sally towards the table, saying on a high, exalted note: 'hello, lady H! Hello, Bill! I knew you wouldn't mind Poor Tootsie...'
Castlebar spoke: 'go away, cookson. Nothing for you here.' 'go away?' cookson appeared flappergasted: 'oh, Bill, how could you be such a meanie? Tootsie and I have had such a tiring day around the bars.'
'go away, cookson.'
'please, Bill, don't be horrid!' Cookson, near tears, took out his handkerchief and rolled it between his hands while Tootsie, unaware of the contention, made himself agreeable to Harriet. He had a favorite, and, indeed, an only interest in life: the state of his bowels.
He bent over Harriet to tell her: 'it's been such a week! Senna pods every night and nothing in the morning. But nothing! Then, only an hour ago, what a surprise! The whole bowel emptied out, and not before time, I can tell you....'
Harriet, who had heard about Tootsie's bowels before, held up a hand it to check him while she watched cookson, now pressing the handkerchief to his cheek, shifting from one foot to the other in Shame. Tootsie, taking no notice of Harriet's appeal, continued in a small, breathy voice, asking her whether she thought the recent evacuation would be a daily event."

I wonder that the author has Dobson, the English diplomat in Cairo, forget who Percy Gibbon is. Guy and Harriet have a room that Dobson let Them have at the embassy flat, where another room is occupied by Gibbon. He snarls at everyone, and acts peeved and thoroughly put-out that he has to suffer others living in the flat. When Harriet mentioned to Dobson that she was afraid that she and her husband were putting him out, Dobson tells Harriet that it is he, Percy, who is putting Dobson out. Dobson had earlier been talked into letting Gibbon stay for a"few days," which had turned into more than a year. And yet, when Dobson was asked to find a place for the wife of a fellow diplomat, he seems to not know who Percy is:
"without further notice, mrs. Dixon arived as Hassan was setting The breakfast table. 6 months pregnant, with a year old son, a folding perambulator, a high chair, a tricycle, a rocking horse and 10 pieces of luggage, she stumbled into the living room, exhausted by a long train journey, and sank on to the sofa. Dobson, called to attend her, went to look at Percy's room. It was only then that he realized it was locked and there was no spare key. He was ordering Hassan to go out and find a locksmith when percy gibbom let himself in through the front door. Percy stopped in the living room to stare at the strange woman and her impedimenta then, sniffing his disgust, went to his room, unlocked it and shut himself inside it.
Dobson said, 'good God, who was that?'
guy, who was seated himself beside Mrs. Dixon in an attempt to cheer and comfort her, told him: 'it was Percy gibbon.' "

Harriet is a thin, frail woman who is sickened by the desert climate of Cairo. Her husband seems to have no use for her. Yet, when she leaves on an evacuation ship for England, and he doesn't hear from her for months, he suddenly misses her:
"guy felt betrayed by life. His good nature, his readiness to respond to others and his appreciation of them had gained him friends and made life easy for him. Now, suddenly and cruelly, he had become the victim of reality. He had not deserved it but there it was: his wife, who might have lived another 50 or 60 years, had gone down with the evacuation ship and he would not see her again."

The author's gift to us, her readers, this trilogy, and her earlier one, are full of loveable, and some thoroughly un-likeable characters that will make you laugh out loud at times, and at other times raise your eyebrows in wonder at their hutzpah and shenanigans. The reader with the ability to visualize the marvelous scenery of all the different locales so lovingly described will delight in places never visited by most. (Looking up places on Google maps was enjoyable.)
… (more)
burritapal | 14 other reviews | Oct 23, 2022 |



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