The last three nights I’ve spent my dream time being parachuted into resistant France and evading capture by the Gestapo. This is all because when I was in Holland recently helping my husband sort through his Father’s enormous collection of books I came across a Dutch edition of The Blue Bicycle, published first as La Bicyclette Bleu in France.
I told my husband how much I’d enjoyed reading this war trilogy when I lived in France.
‘It’s like Gone With The Wind,’ I said, ‘but set on a vineyard in the second world war.’
Not only did he bring the Dutch edition back to England, possibly hoping that one day my Dutch might be up to it, but also scoured the internet to buy me English translations so I’ve been rereading them this week.
I last read them in French about fifteen years ago when I lived near Caen, a city that had been largely destroyed at the end of the war. Just up the road was Arromanches where the mulberry harbours used to disembark the DDay troops still sat in the bay.
There was evidence of the war all around. There was a tank called Charlie One on the beach near my flat, the next street along was called ‘Avenue du Six Juin.’ Within a short drive were cemeteries, English, Canadian, American and German. All with their own atmospheres and varying degrees of humility and triumphalism.
The cafes had little signs in saying ‘Welcome to our liberators’ to attract the war veterans, though even fifteen years ago it was more likely to be the offspring of the American soldier who was visiting rather than the solder himself.
And I never had any sense that this welcome was genuine, it soley existed as a marketing tool and I often felt a bit sorry for the people, mainly Americans, who believed it and who’d be trying to tell the bored and disdainful patron what their Daddies had done in the war.
So, the books themselves are a riveting read and I’ve raced through them at the rate of one a night. They aren’t quite as well written as I remember, though that may be because I’m reading them in translation. The sex is a bit odd. The heroine, Lea Delmas, a sexier and less selfish version of Scarlet O’Hara spends a lot of time thinking about food and sex. Pourquoi pas? We may say, but quite a lot of the sex starts with a struggle that she then enjoys which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. And I’m interested that I didn’t notice that about the books before. Maybe it sits a bit better in French, maybe I did notice but didn’t remember, maybe I didn’t care? I’m not sure.
But it has made me think about why I like war literature so much, and particularly WWII and I think it is a bit because I like to absorb my history through fiction but also because of the way that normal behaviour is suspended. ‘We might all be dead tomorrow, says Lea after a rather improbable threesome with the Lefevre (Tarleton) twins who have adored her for years. And she’s right. People, characters, behave in a more interesting way when they have less of a concept of consequences.
Had an interesting twitter conversation recently with someone who prefers the first to the second world war as a fictional setting and it prompted me to think about why I am the other way around. I think it is because women have more to do by the time the second world war rolls around.
I want to carry on about other better and more easy available WWII books but I need to go to work. I am not at war, normal behaviour is not suspended and I need to go and earn a crust. More later…
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