Lots to savour in this historical novel

2009-02-04 00:00

READERS of novels look for satisfaction on a number of different levels. Many choose simply to be entertained. No harm in that. For those who enjoy a little enlightenment with their story — a closer look at something perhaps — Georges-Marc Benamou’s book is the novel to opt for. The mere fact that it is a translation from another language, and French at that, adds a little spice.

History is usually much more palatable through plays and novels than through studying the subject itself, and as the fate of Europe and indeed much of the civilised world hung in the balance, as it awaited the outcome of the Munich Conference, there is a great deal to absorb the reader.

Benamou’s bibliography is detailed and impressive and he has worked hard at authenticating his story. His list of characters include Mussolini, Sir Neville Chamberlain, Hermann Göring, Edouard Daladier, the president of the French Council and, of course, Adolf Hiltler.

The story is “unearthed” in a very real sense by a busy young female journalist who runs the 84-year-old Daladier himself to ground and persuades him, not altogether willingly at first, to take her through much of the ebb and flow of the conference and the roles played by the major players.

If we can trust the author’s research, and I am sure we can, characterisation is accurate and fascinating. Hitler is sickly, moody and unpredictable, Mussolini is an opinionated peacock, and, according to Daladier, Chamberlain is not to be trusted. Add to the brew one or two memorable moments: Daladier’s threat to walk out of the conference if Czechoslovakia is to lose its independence; and his subsequent return to Paris to a hero’s welcome despite his own feeling of failure.

The discerning reader should find a great deal to savour. Another good test of a novel is a slight sense of loss when you get to the last page. So it is with this one. Very good

reading.

Gordon Crossley

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