Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd London
First Published: 1950
“’Now, if a man’s got a vocation he always makes good. Somehow, sometime, his opportunity comes, and because it’s the one thing he’s been waiting for all his life, he’s ready when it comes and he takes it. Your chance will come all right - and you’ll take it - don’t worry.’”
This paragraph from the book sums up for me what the essence of this book is about. Willie Maryngton’s opportunity never does come and his ambition and dreams slowly slip away, leaving him a broken man.
One of the first comments I saw on this book was “A story of why men go to war”; I have to admit that this made me a bit doubtful as to whether I’d actually enjoy it. I’ve never been that interested in war stories (except of course the story of Violette Szabo, and Leo Marks’ hauntingly beautiful poem “The Life That I have”.) But this book is beautifully written and you easily come to emphasise with Willie’s heartbreaks. The fact that it is about war becomes almost unimportant.
Willie Marynton has made a career in the army but he doesn’t feel like a true soldier as he has never fought in a war. He missed the first world war by a matter of days and when the second world war comes along, he is in his forties and is left behind to train the new recruits.
The theme of tragic under-achievement is also told through Willie’s stilted love affair with the beautiful and intelligent Felicity Osbourne.
There is a very satisfying twist at the end of the story that, although heartbreaking, leaves you with the feeling that maybe Willie did finally get his opportunity. As I don’t want to spoil the story I can’t tell you exactly what happens but the fact that this fictional story is built upon a true event in the second world war makes it even more fascinating.
The link below will explain more about this but don’t read it before you’ve read the book!