Maybe Dunkirk is played out as a heart-tug. (Viz. Nicholas Harman's 1981 Dunkirk: The Patriotic Myth.) Maybe the homely...



Maybe Dunkirk is played out as a heart-tug. (Viz. Nicholas Harman's 1981 Dunkirk: The Patriotic Myth.) Maybe the homely vignette, the incongruous detail, and the variegated list don't seem to add up to so much any more. Or maybe Lord doesn't view the Crucial Event, or handle the narrative-mode, with the conviction he once did. (His 1967 Incredible Victory is undiminished by Gordon Prange's superb new Miracle at Midway.) By any reckoning, this is not much of a book. The action leading up to the need to evacuate the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk isn't made much clearer to the reader than to the baffled soldiers we meet. British commander Gort's determination to pull out is highly dramatized, as is the opposition in London; the French charge that they weren't informed is dismissed. Corollary British military actions--the stand at Calais, closing the Belgian gap--are presented as heroic feats. The belated, proportionately small evacuation of the French--a source of controversy for 40 years--is treated almost wholly as a consequence of natural British priorities and chronic French failings. (The anti-French bias is such that whatever they do is wrong: ""The French seemed to know a thousand ways to slow down the embarkation. They tried to bring all their gear, their personal possessions, even their dogs."") In general, the story is familiar: Operation Dynamo, in Dover, corralling large and small ships; the hazardous embarkation, from the beaches and the eastern mole, under German fire; the sometimes-perilous crossing; the final withdrawal. But even the roundup of small vessels and week-end sailors, source of Dunkirk's enduring human-interest appeal, is relatively pallid, even hackneyed here. ""Fernald wondered at the incredible change in his life that had snatched him from a humdrum existence in London and put him in an open boat racing through the dark."" (Or: ""Three ships gone--the mole strafed and damaged--it was all very unnerving""; ""Still, the dash to the waiting vessels was always unnerving."") For Lord, this is spiritless, unimaginative writing--and that's what finally makes the book routine.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1982