THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL by Peter Luke

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE HILL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Best known for his London and Broadway hit Hadrian VII, British author Luke makes his fictional debut with a ""tree-life novel"" that follows the British army across various battlefields during the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Luke draws heavily on eye-witness accounts for his history of the four-year campaign, and seems most confident when using these (""what follows is history""), most timid when thrown back on his resources (""the storming of a fortress cannot easily be described by one person""). We watch the Rifle Brigade moving through Spain and Portugal, defeating French armies, sometimes with the help of Spanish guerrillas. Wellington makes several appearances, Napoleon none. The centerpiece of the story is the marriage of British officer Harry Smith (first among equals, rather than protagonist) to the 14-year-old Juanita, rendered homeless after the bloody British conquest of Badajoz. For both, it is love at first sight; ""Juanita's no five-furlong filly,"" Harry's brother assures him. ""She'll go a mile and half any day."" And indeed she does, becoming an excellent horsewoman and staying with Harry for the duration of the campaign. Though Luke does not downplay the appalling loss of life, a bluff, breezy tone predominates: ""coming to 13 Platoon Harry found Charley very pleased having 'shot hisself a Frencher' and been nicked in the neck by a bullet which had just missed the jugular vein."" A final chapter covers Napoleon's last hurrah at Waterloo. Luke's regimental piety (he served with the same brigade in WW II) has stunted, fatally, his novelist's reach. His unappealing hybrid is too dry and colorless for lovers of historical fiction (what an opportunity wasted in the failure to plumb that bizarre marriage!), and too unsystematic for military-history buffs.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Victor Gollancz--dist. by David & Charles