Saturday, 10 August 2013

Olivia Manning, 'The Balkan Trilogy'

This was first published I think in 1960, and recounted a world that was already vanished then. The British Council, English teachers in Romania and Greece. One reviewer, who is an English teacher, said that the profession had just as many "idiots and charlatans" in it then as it does now. This is my short review on Goodreads.

Lovely sharp descriptive writing and a great portrayal of a world which has vanished, set in Romania and Greece before and during the Second World War. But ultimately just a bit pointless. Her nickname was "Olivia Moaning" in literary circles, and reading this you can see why.

Looking at it I was perhaps a little unkind. The descriptive writing is some of the best I have read, and the characters are wonderfully drawn. I was never even slightly bored. Some little things struck me. When the Pringles, the couple at the centre of the book, whose marriage is new but already troubled, have to leave Romania when that country sides with the Nazis, and go to Greece, Harriet, the wife, discovers that the English people in Athens are not the same type as those in Bucharest.
"The English who lived in Bucharest had gone there to work. The English in Athens were clearly of a different order. Encountering for the first time people who lived abroad unoccupied, she was amazed by their inactivity..." But she doesn't have a job herself! She has gone there to accompany her husband. She has absolutely nothing to do, and this is a theme of the book. Autres temps...

The conversation is great too. It reads as though it took place. An English pilot, feted by the Greek crowds, shouts "Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!" When asked by one of the Greeks what that means, one of the English replies "It is an old English battle-cry".

And here is a song that appealed to me: (Do others know it?)

A petty bourgeois philistine
He didn't know the party line.
Although his sentiments were right
He was a bloomin' Trotskyite.
Despite great mental perturbation,
Persistent left-wing deviation
Dogged his footsteps till at last
Discouraged by his awful past
And taking it too much to heart he
Went and joined the Labour Party.
The moral of this tale is when in
Doubt consult the works of Lenin.

Well, it amused me.


Anonymous said...

Yes - you were unkind! Loved The Balkan trilogy and read it in the mid eighties - when I was undergoing disillusionment with first husband - so the Harreit Pringle cow-towing to BLOODY Guy struck a chord. Seriously though, I think it is good stuf - and oddly also, the TV adaptation of the time with Harriet Walter and Ken Brannaugh as the Pringles was also spot on. Came out about the same time as Jewel in the Crown with Geraldine James and Charles Dance and I read Jewel in the Crown at the same time. But as for Paul Scott - forget JC and read Staying On. That is his masterpiece. Also, oddly - the subject of a fab tv adaptation in a single drama and a reunion of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. Oh - go and read Staying On NOW -- unless you have already done so -- in fact , I will re-read it myself it is SO GOOD. Bloody Raj!! TUSKER is a horror and a delight

Jane Griffiths said...

Never saw the TV of the the Balkan Trilogy. Enjoyed the Jewel in the Crown thoroughly, especially Geraldine James. I read Paul Scott because of it, and ADORED Staying On - must read again, it was a long time ago, do not still have the book, so Mr Kindle beckons.

Anonymous said...

And also 'Dance to the Music of Time' - the Anthony Powell 9 volume extravaganza. Fab! And the tv series with Simon Russell Beale as Widermerpool is again, wonderful!!