The Tale of Two Interwar Novels

Two interwar novels

Anyone who follows my Instagram account will know that I’m rather a big bookworm. I love the written word and losing myself in someone else’s imagination, it’s a great way to escape the daily grind. However, I don’t often write about what I’m reading or have read on the blog.

The main reason for this is because the moment I’ve finished one book I’m straight on to the next and tend to get too wrapped up in the new one to focus on anything else. However, several people have commented on a couple of books I’ve been reading recently, asking if I would let them know what I think, so I decided to break my habit and write a post.

The two novels are The Blue Pencil by David Lowther and The German Boy by Tricia Wastvedt and both are set during the interwar years of the 1920s and 30s. As a result they both cover that incredibly intriguing period of time when unrest was sweeping across the world. However, these books are very different.

The Blue Pencil

The Blue Pencil by David Lowther

I first became aware of this book when the author, David Lowther, started following me on Twitter. When anyone follows me on any social media site I always go and have a nosy around their profile and on David’s there was a link to his book. After reading the synopsis I was completely intrigued.

“This compelling story follows an idealistic young journalist from his first steps along Fleet Street to the dark and dangerous heart of 1930s Nazi Germany as he uncovers the secrets kept from us by the British Government.”

The first thing I’ll say about this book is the author really knows his stuff. There are so many details in it about how the Government responded to the Nazi advancement in Europe and how they controlled many of the big newspapers of the time. I found it all incredibly interesting to read and there was so much of it I didn’t know. It really helped me to understand how WWII actually came to happen and how each individual event made an impact on Britain.

However, this book breaks every rule in creative writing (and trust me, I know them all after doing loads of creative writing courses). Don’t expect any beautifully poetic prose or character development, the relationships are cold and you don’t particularly care about them. Certain things are mentioned over and over again, such as the fact that the main character and his girlfriend like to go dancing and to the cinema and that his girlfriend is more knowledgeable than him on world politics. I could go on.

The writing style did irritate me at times, but I chose to put it aside fairly quickly because the facts were just so fascinating. I do think this should’ve been written as a non-fiction book and it would perhaps appeal to more people that way. However, do not be put off by this if you’re interested in finding out about how the Government controlled our press during the lead up to WWII, you’ll learn so much.

The German Boy

The German Boy by Tricia Wastvedt

I bought The German Boy in a charity shop for 99p (I buy all my books secondhand) because, like The Blue Pencil, I was instantly intrigued by the synopsis.

“Spanning decades and generations, The German Boy tells the moving story of two families entangled by love and friendship, divided by prejudice and war, and of a brief encounter between a woman and a man that touched each of their lives forever.”

This is a beautiful book which spans from the mid-1920s up to 1947, although the war is pretty much skipped over. It cleverly weaves this one brief moment into everyones lives and how certain decisions were sub-consciously made because of it. It’s clever and you never know where the author is going to take you next, keeping you hooked and wanting more.

The two sisters, Elizabeth and Karen, have a love/hate relationship, much like most siblings. They’re constantly competing against each other, trying to win one over. Their behaviour shapes not just their lives but of those around them. The author explores each sister with great depth and every aspect of their personality is brought forth to the point where you feel like you really know them. This is something I absolutely love in novels.

The prose is stunning, it has such a beautiful rhythm, and her descriptions allow you to truly visualise the things she’s talking about. However, there’s nothing fluffy in her writing, she never adds things or uses big important words just for the sake of appearing to be clever, as you can see from this description in the opening chapter.

“The floorboards were painted brown, the Lincrusta-papered walls distempered green to match the nylon eiderdown. Above the bed was The Taj Mahal at Dawn, an embroidered picture in boiled pink hanging on a chain. She had drawn the curtains and put on the bedside lamps but the room was still cheerless.”

My only criticism of the book would be that occasionally the tense changes from past to present and I never really knew why. There were a couple of sections where the character was dreaming which made sense but most others were not and just came across a bit confusing. Oh, and I think the cover photo really doesn’t do it any justice. It feels ill thought out, as if someone went online to find an image of a woman who vaguely looked vintage. This book, and the author, deserves better.

 

All in all, I really enjoyed both books but for very different reasons. The stories they hold are fascinating and I would recommend both if you love this time period. I couldn’t put either of them down, despite their individual issues. Both authors have produced follow up novels which I’m rather interested in reading once I’ve finished the massive pile of yet-to-be-read books on my shelves!

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

16 Comments

  1. I really liked this post and those books sound just fine! Books have always been so special to me and I like how you put it, someone else’s imagination. I also like he fact that you only but second hand books! I’m the very same way! I like you more every day!!
    Aside from Thelma Todd’s and Joan Blondell’s bio I’ve never read a modern book. The newest I’ve read being from 1937. I’m not sure I could get myself to read a contemporary book but I think I’ll give the latter book you spoke of a try! It sounds real good (but they both do)!

    • Hoorah! Good to know there’s someone else out there who only buys secondhand books. I’m amazed that you haven’t read anything newer than 1937. A couple of modern books come to mind that I’d highly recommend are Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my favourite writers) and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Both are absolutely stunning books. xx

  2. I’m also a voracious reader and start a new book the minute I’ve finished the last one. Those two books are going straight on my list, as I love any book set in this time period. I get what you mean by that cover photo. There seem to be a lot of similar ones around. xxx

    • I hate it when publishers use ill-thought out covers. I love the one on The Blue Pencil but a dreamy vintagey shot just isn’t appropriate for such an intelligent book like The German Boy. x

    • Do let me know if you read it. I’d love to know what other people think of it. x

  3. Thanks for pointing these out, I’ll add them to my list! Both sound worth reading, for different reasons. xx

  4. Great reviews! Though I haven’t read it, I completely agree with your assessment of the cover on The German Boy. Her outfit is retro-y, yes, but not 1930s/40s – the jacket alone is more late 50s/early 60s and the whole thing fails to fully capture the essence of the era that the story was set in. I’ve encountered this many times with historical novels from various time periods and always feel like those in the publishing world should just reach out to us knowledgeable vintage wearing folks for some guidance, when needed, to ensure a greater degree of period authenticity with their cover images.

    ♥ Jessica

    • It’s such a shame, isn’t it? I was almost put off by the cover because it cheapened it and made me think it probably wasn’t that well written, whereas in fact, it was quite the opposite. At least the phrase ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ is a very true statement here. xx

  5. I’ve just got Parade’s End from the library so I’ll be busy for a while. I’ll add these to my list – thanks for the recommendation.

    • Excellent, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Parade’s End. Do let me know what you think. x

  6. I think both of these will be added to my ever increasing to read list. They both sound interesting and like I would enjoy them. Thanks for the reviews. I buy second hand books quite a lot, I love a charity shop rummage. I also tend to ask for book tokens for birthdays and Christmas so that I can have a happy time book buying. I have just finished The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse and Dominium by CJ Sansom. I highly recommend them both if you haven’t yet read them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.