An immensely readable debut, a kind of British Rich Man, Poor Man, set during the early days of the Battle of Britain.
Twin brothers William and Tom Anderson, who will prove quite different temperamentally, are born in 1918 to the sound of armistice bells ringing in the end of WWI. In brief chapters summarizing events of succeeding years, we observe the boys’ childhood through early manhood—often through the eyes of their gossipy neighbors, widowed Marigold Jennings and spinster “Miss Betty.” Corrick overuses this catty pair, though once in a while their pseudoaphoristic observations strike home (e.g., “Devotion is no basis for marriage,” a perverse truism illustrated by the boys’ incompatible parents). Through 1939, we watch William turn scholarly and “poetic” (with a taste for Tennyson), while Tom surrenders himself to the poetry of aviation. The bulk of the tale covers the year 1940, as Tom becomes a Spitfire pilot hopefully pursuing an elusive woman flyer. William, meanwhile, marries an older woman doctor and secures a teaching position at Liberty Hall, a progressive school for preadolescents run by a Panglossian, Blake-quoting obsessive and eccentric neatly named Masterman (“My pedagogic aim is the abolition of irrational belief”). Parallel scenes (often too brief to fully register) detail Tom’s fateful progression toward an airfight over the English Channel, and the mock-Chaucerian “pilgrimage” to Canterbury undertaken by Masterman and company when Liberty Hall is commandeered by the British Army. The introduction of such marginally involved, though thematically crucial, characters as rescued Polish refugee Janosz Pasenik intensifies the skillfully tangled separate stories, which dovetail toward a satisfying close, in a momentarily peaceful churchyard echoing with complex images of death and rebirth.
A little too pat and intermittently predictable to qualify for Masterpiece Theater. But the BBC should be quick to snap it up.