Charming stories of English village life

2010-01-20 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Notwithstanding

Louis de Berni è res

Harvill Secker

LOUIS De Berni è res, the author of the more famous Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has revisited his childhood in this charming collection of loosely related short stories.

De Berni è res grew up in a small village in Surrey during the sixties and seventies. In this collection he draws on his memories of village life to create a cast of characters that gives truth to the words of a Frenchman De Berni è res once met. The Frenchman told him that England was “an immense lunatic ­asylum”, and the characters that people the small village of Notwithstanding definitely prove this point.

Anyone who has lived in a small British village for any number of years will remember at least a few eccentric characters. Perhaps it’s the tolerant British attitude which ­allows unusual characters to be themselves.

There’s Mrs Mac, for example, a spiritualist whose every moment is taken up with ensuring her husband’s comforts. Even though he is dead. Then there is the General who has fought valiantly through more wars than anyone knows but somehow can’t quite remember to put his clothes on every morning. And then there is Obadiah Oak, one of the ­“village’s last peasants” who never bathes and stinks to high heaven. Even he is tolerated, more or less, by those he meets daily.

The stories also smack of folklore and possibly one or two of them are De Berni è res’ own memories of high points in his own early life. There is the legendary girt pike which was caught by a fearless young boy, perhaps De Berni è res himself? And there are, of course, tales of a ghost who warns of impending deaths.

It’s a delicious collection, written with De Berni è res’ sharp attention to detail and each story has a delightfully ironic tone. Notwithstanding is a perfect bedtime read and each story sends you off to sleep with a smile on your face.

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