Now We Shall Be Entirely Free: The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2019
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It's partly a sense of being kept at arms length from him, that puzzles me but perhaps it's a metaphor for his dissociation with his past? Miller has much to say and I hope he finds readers that will come, not just for the great story telling, but to discover those themes that run deeper throughout the book. The concept of “total war” was articulated by Carl von Clausewitz, (in his book On War ) immediately after the Napoleonic wars, published in 1832). But who is more to blame: the brutalised rank-and-file perpetrators, who have themselves been subject to a lifetime of abuse, or the officer whose intervention, when it comes, is too little, too late? Andrew Miller's talent for immersive world-building, fully-rounded characterizations, profound emotional and philisophical meditations, combined with exciting plotting are all on display in this novel.
What makes other times and places recognisable and relevant is the similarity to us of the people who inhabit them. Miller’s prose and dialogue make no obvious efforts to belong to the time in which the novel is set, and instead Miller relies on his copious and lightly displayed knowledge of period detail to give a flavour of the era. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour Prize for the best foreign novel published in Italy. Familiar to the flight-pursuit trope, love redeems the fleeing good guy and we’re left with an hopeful but unresolved ending. But what begins as if it might be a full-immersion historical novel (in the manner, say, of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, also set during that war) quickly becomes instead a psychological mystery.
Andrew Miller’s eighth novel consolidates his track record as a distinguished, much-awarded novelist who specialises in historical writing. He fills his novel with vividly etched characters and has a way with words that delights, surprises and enthrals.
In some of his best books — like “Ingenious Pain,” his first, about an 18th-century doctor, and the more recent “Pure,” about an engineer in pre-revolutionary France trying to clean up an ancient cemetery — he brings off the Mantel trick of plunging you so deeply into the past that before long you take it completely for granted. I have already purchased his previous books which will take pride of place on my favourite bookshelf. The only redeeming quality of the book is that it was relatively well-told - even though Miller was telling a story where for the most part (and I can’t stress this enough) NOTHING HAPPENS, he tells it in a way that keeps you turning the page. But I admit that Miller’s dating surgical handwashing and glaucoma surgery to the early from the mid-nineteenth century of Semmelweis and von Graefe left me slightly disgruntled.There is a lot of suffering in the novel: that harsh experience, grief, and failure should make us welcome, not turn away from, joy is one of the lessons Lacroix struggles to learn and that Miller, indirectly, offers us in our turn. I wonder whether Miller has actually been to any of them, if he in fact has visited them, I feel he's missed a trick as the scenery is perfect for an evocative story such as this and could provide vivid imagery to the reader.
The dramatic quality could have been retained (or even enhanced) by a bit of variety: the novel might have gone somewhere else, either back to the war or to some other plotline, to give a more organic feel to something that begins to seem prescriptively tailored. No ancient and honourable institution is without its ancient and honourable crimes,” observes a shadowy superior. Comments that contribute civilly and constructively to discussion of the topics raised on this blog, from any point of view, are welcome. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free is a historical novel, but it is also many other things - a war novel, a romance, an adventure story, a cat and mouse chase, a story of friendship. It’s the descriptions of the setting that really shine, though, as is both right and necessary given the restorative role the Hebrides play in Lacroix’s odyssey.Only towards the end of the book will he reveal the nature of those memories to a confidante to whom he has become close. In practice though I discovered that this was the type of book that I do not enjoy when it is longlisted – The North Water being the closest parallel. So we get two plotlines, the one of a destroyed man running away from the past and the two men on a mission. I don’t feel the need to fact-check novels, whether set contemporaneously or in the early nineteenth century. A Spanish officer, Medina, is sent along to bear witness to the execution, though he suspects they’re on a fool’s errand.
In Jura, in a boarding house, they sat out two days of the storm, the weather dementing against the windows so that they dared not sit too close for fear the glass would come in.He is Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain's disastrous campaign against Napoleon's forces in Spain. The former is an often-forgotten art form in the contemporary novel, which often seeks to impress rather than entertain, but the latter is what makes him one of the most impressive novelists at work today. Recently on Twitter, when the topic of the latest Booker Prize shortlist came up, I commented that I’ve starting paying more attention to other prize lists when scouting for books to read. There we find that what’s really being fought out is not merely a battle for personal survival – since fugitive and pursuer are each witness to the other’s responsibility for what is a capital offence – but a class war. But there are problems too: the protagonist isn't deeply drawn, and what we know of him hardly makes him a hero or indeed someone who is sure of who he is.