A quietly evocative account of a soldier’s homecoming in northern England, by British novelist Bragg (On Giants’ Shoulders, 1999, etc.).
When Sam Richardson came back with his regiment from Burma in 1946, there were no parades: The euphoria of victory had subsided pretty quickly the year before, and the folks in his hometown of Wigton were too preoccupied with rationing, unemployment, and the creation of the National Health Service to have time for more war stories. That’s just as well for Sam, who had seen some pretty nasty action in a very nasty campaign and just wants to get back to normal life as quickly as he can. But that may not be possible. Sam’s wife Ellen became fairly independent during the war, having started a housecleaning business that she doesn’t want to give up, and she and Sam and their six-year-old son Joe now have to live with Ellen’s Aunt Grace because there’s not a house to be had in town for love or money. This is very much a story of England in the 1940s—gray, bleak, and underfed—and the overwhelming sense the author communicates is the claustrophobia that afflicts everyone who could remember the better times of the prewar years that seem to have been lost forever. Eventually, Ellen finds an affordable house that Aunt Grace will help them buy, but Sam finds himself more and more at loose ends, unable to settle for the routines of England. When he is offered an opportunity to emigrate to Australia, he finds the urge almost overwhelming—but Ellen wants none of it. Can Sam, having seen a larger world, settle for the smallness of Wigton? Or can he convince his family to embark on a new life with him?
Quite powerful in an understated way: a splendid portrait of a world on the verge of a new era.