I’ve been very preoccupied lately with The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning, which, despite it being on my Trilogies Reading List, I hadn’t read. I was on a bit of a deadline with it as the tv version, The Fortunes of War, is this year’s Yuletide Boxset (a traditional part of Christmas celebrations in my part of the world). So I had to get all 1,000 pages read by Christmas – present-shopping be damned.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Most of the book(s) concerns Guy and Harriet Pringle in Bucharest waiting for war to descend upon them, but it is a really good read, full of brilliantly realised characters. It has something in common with Isherwood, I suppose, but is epic in scale as opposed to his vignettes. There’s no character in it that you completely like, as they all have their annoying or obstinate sides, but you feel sympathy for them: my favourite was Yakimov, ‘your poor old Yaki’, who I hated to start with.
The atmosphere of the times is well portrayed: all these ex-pats with varying degrees of self-delusion, going about their own business while the Nazis chase them across Europe. There’s a brilliant bit when a massive explosion knocks Guy and Harriet out of bed one night in Athens, and she, in shock, says something like ‘well, this really is a bit much’.
Unfortunately I discovered shortly before finishing the book that the tv series The Fortunes of War is not just based on it, but on the follow up, The Levant Trilogy, as well. So it seems I might not be able to get my head out of a book at all before Christmas.