This is another one of those book verses film dilemmas.
When I first heard of the movie I thought "Chick Flick." I haven't seen the movie in total, just a snippet somewhere in the middle, it didn't grab me. But, once again I found myself with a book that I wasn't likely to pick up because of the movie. This time, it was a present from my wife.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author, Louis De Bernieres, is a multiple award winning writer. So again, my new criteria, to only read award winning books and writers, was satisfied. A little bit of research revealed that the author did 26 or so rewrites of the book because he wanted to get the story right, he wanted to be faithful to the people and history of Cephallonia. It has all the flavour of an extremely well researched book. Touching on; music, medicine, history and culture, and always, with the authority of someone very well acquainted with their subject.
De Bernieres writes in many voices; male, female, goatherd, musician, doctor, priest, soldier, Greek, Italian, German and others. There are two chapters devoted to Mussolini, one, in the voice of "Il Duce", elevating himself in marvellous pomposity and self delusion. While another pillories the dictator with delicious irony and mock praise. It is the voice of one that has had the veil torn away and now sees the unclad emperor in all his naked transparency.
There are parts of this book that are reminiscent of Hemmingway's "A Farewell to Arms". But this is a much better telling, a far richer landscape. It was a book that at times I couldn't put down, and at others was loth to continue. It is a book rich with humour, and yet it is appalling. It makes us laugh at our own humanity, and at the same time it disgusts us with our "Inhumanity". It is, in many ways, a true Greek Tragedy. In the midst of calamity we laugh. In the midst of joy we despair.
When reading "A Farewell to Arms" I deduced the outcome about two thirds of the way through. Yet with this book I was genuinely reluctant to reach the end, because I wasn't sure. I felt as though the writer had gone too far from a possible "happy ending", and was just tying up loose ends. I thought he had left clues, while always I was missing the obvious ones. I thought the story was about one theme of continuity and moving on, something from the past being carried into the future. But I was wrong, and I am glad I was wrong. It is many themes, it is many stories. It speaks to a past and a future.
I only have one small criticism. And that is, that this book has the hallmark of a writer a little bit too in love with his own vocabulary. He uses highly descriptive words when simpler will do just as well. Then you realise maybe he's just in love with some new words and keeps using them all the time, whenever they can justifiably fit in. That kind of writing annoys me and smacks a bit of literary pride. If a word or phrase satisfies the ego more than the story, it shouldn't be there.
I recommend you read this book, but don't stop there, read his other works. I'm going to read more of De Bernieres. Because his ability to weave a story is stunning.