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JACQUES, I believe in hope, too. And now I believe in Promises. I never made any because I couldn’t. I make this one. We will see our house, in your paradise…”

 

The Soldier’s Home, actor–writer George Costigan’s follow-up to the best-selling The Single Soldier, finds Jacques Vermande living in France in the early 1950s, rebuilding Janatou for his beloved Simone and their child to return to. They live in New York, where Jacques sent them to safety.

Divided into two parts, the first mostly comprises poignant letters full of love, loss, loneliness and reproach from Simone to Jacques, who rarely responds, while the second, set in the 1980s, centres on Enid, a teacher-turned-writer, who falls in love with the soldier’s home and the story behind it.

The letters that Simone writes, in some cases little more than fragments, are snatches of her life, referencing both the past and her new start in America with her son. As time passes, Simone and little Jack are seduced by America and all it offers, their ties to France and to Jacques tangibly weakening.

In among the outpourings of love and often despair in Simone’s missives, we get insights into the prevailing politics and culture of postwar America. The fear of all things communist, the poverty, racism and inequality which most Americans experience on a daily basis and the slow but turning tide towards desegregation are experienced firsthand by Simone, who lives in Harlem, and whose communist leanings work against her.

As his loved ones’ lives change, Jacques’ seemingly stays static. He waits for Simone to collect enough pennies in the jars she keeps for that purpose – the money to pay for their journey back to him – but his hope dwindles as Simone finds other things to spend it on.

Costigan’s pared back language and beautiful tone set the scene for Jacques and Simone’s fated love affair. A France, still reeling from World War II in the first half of the book, contrasts well with a frenetic 1950s’ New York, and the pace of that first section is uneven as a result, the letters and Simone’s moods largely setting the pace. Conversely, Enid’s story, set decades later, feels much more detached, almost languid in places.

The Soldier’s Home is a very visual book in every sense – the pages illustrated with lovely black-and-white drawings which mimic the simplicity and beauty of Costigan’s prose. And perhaps this is not surprising given that Costigan is an accomplished film and television actor, well used to painting a picture with just a few words.

The Soldier’s Home will stay with readers for quite some time. It’s a lyrical in places, finely tuned book.

 

The Soldier’s Home | George Costigan | Urbane Publications | 17 May 2018 | paperback | £8.99

 

Acknowledgements: Quoted text p. 22 The Soldier’s Home © George Costigan 2018. This review is published as part of the The Soldier’s Home book blog tour. Many thanks to Kelly at Love Books Group for organising it and to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Cover image supplied by the publisher. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.

 

Also of interest:Soundings – in search of one father’s war’ (art review); ‘Mary Monro’s Stranger in My Heart‘; ‘Only Remembered edited by Michael Morpurgo’; ‘The stark beauty of William Shaw’s Salt Lane‘; ‘Johana Gustawsson’s Keeper –indie publisher, Orenda, does it again‘; ‘Elder’s last stand – John Harvey’s Body and Soul;  ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original Penguin Ten’; ‘Book covers we love – Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday’.

 

This review is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.