Monday, January 23, 2017

The Trap by Dan Billany

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2017

Lieutenant Michael Carr’s peaceful life in a Cornish village is shattered with the outbreak of the Second World War. German planes are heard droning across darkening skies. Towns are set ablaze by incendiary bombs. And Cornwall, though seemingly safe and secluded, is not exempt from the devastation. While Michael trains for the army in the Cornish countryside, he dreams of a future with this sweetheart, Elizabeth Pascoe. But they are trapped by the war, which rages on, consuming and destroying ordinary life. And it is not long before Michael is summoned far from England to the deserts around Tobruk. Under an unrelenting sun, harried by German tanks, Michael’s life with Elizabeth, suddenly seems unbearably out of reach... Can Michael survive the war and make it home to Elizabeth? And even if he does, will things ever be the same again?

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Men of the Leicestershire Regiment man a Bren gun near Tobruk, 1941.
The premise of Dan Billany’s The Trap was too intriguing to ignore. The phrase “unsurpassed realism” jumped out at me, but I was also fascinated by the jacket description. Stories set in North Africa during the war aren’t as common as those set in continental Europe and I was curious to how the material would be treat by someone who’d actually experienced it. I didn’t register the bits about 1930s Britain, probably because the subject matter didn’t interest me all that much, but there is the rub as the chapters dedicated to the protagonist’s quiet life in Cornwall proved overwhelmingly dull and all but killed my interest in the novel.

The first half of the book is dedicated in large part to chronicling the life of Michael’s wife, Elizabeth. The prose is that of a more mature and expressive age, but the content is dry beyond measure. I simply didn’t care about Michael’s better half and more than once caught myself neglecting the details of the plot. I flirted with the idea of abandoning the novel several times, but ultimately opted to skim through much of the first half of the narrative. Michael’s training proved more interesting, but I’d already begun to lose interest by the time he was sent to North Africa and struggled to get into the story despite the authenticity of Billany’s descriptions.

When push comes to shove, I appreciate The Trap for the insights it affords, but I’d have difficulty recommending to as entertaining fiction. There is an abundance of scholarly merit in this piece, but I don’t think well-suited for casual readers.

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We lay quiet, listening to the distant roar and clank and clatter of the approaching tanks. The two boys were watching my face. Their fixed eyes were drilling down under my expression, searching for some confident certainty in my heart. They had no straw of their own to cling to, but if I had any real certainty of salvation, they would cling to that. In my heart I had nothing to offer them. I was not much afraid, but I was absolutely ignorant of what was likely to happen, and I was not now (in one sense) interested. Too much of me had detached itself and become a spectator.
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