All the reading lists lately have been enthusiastic about this book, so I snatched it off the library shelf. I read it through. However, when it cameAll the reading lists lately have been enthusiastic about this book, so I snatched it off the library shelf. I read it through. However, when it came time to rate it, I was hesitant. Admittedly the book had a clever twist in its tail. (OK, bad pun, I grovel.) But that same sort of twist has been written before, and with more spice. Good examples can be found in the works of Agatha Christie, the play Gaslight and other works. I like that kind of sleight of hand, so where was my enthusiasm? Why didn't I like this better?
I think that my first problem is that I found the main character so annoying and unappealing that I didn't care what happened to her. Clearly, the author drew her characters "Warts and all" and I could only focus on the warts. To a certain degree, I found the other characters irritating as well. Rachel, our heroine, gradually reveals that her life has disintegrated following the demise of her marriage. She drinks too much, has gained a lot of unattractive weight, and has lost her job. She is living with a flatmate whose kindness she repays by leaving messes in the kitchen and throwing up on the stairs. She rides the train into London every day because she won't admit she is unemployed. She sees the same couple in a house near where the train always slows. She builds a fantasy about them wherein they have all the things in life that she has lost. Then, one day, an anomaly intrudes into her rosy picture. Something is very wrong in her little dream house. Then she discovers that her happy wife surrogate has disappeared. Should she tell what she knows to the police? Will they believe her?
Needless to say, Rachel's intrusion into the lives of her fantasy lovers causes confusion, hatred and violence to intrude on her. The author cunningly discredits Rachel and then builds her back again. But by then, I just didn't care. The slyness of the exposition buys it three stars, but I can't give it anymore.
I always thought that history depended on who was telling the story at the end of the day. Turns out I was right on. Imagine yourself as a citizen ofI always thought that history depended on who was telling the story at the end of the day. Turns out I was right on. Imagine yourself as a citizen of London, anxious to hear the latest news from The Colonies. It won't be immediate, you know that. The swiftest passage of the Atlantic is four or five weeks, and a more usual time is two months. By the time you receive your news, it is already at least six weeks out of date. So imagine the frustration of His Majesty's Government, trying to make policies for the administration of a country isolated not just by an ocean, but by Time. Then imagine yourself as a Colonial Governor or a Commander-in-Chief of British Colonial Army, trying to carry out policies, enforce laws and keep order, when your orders are a response to stale news, uninformed by intelligence on the ground and arrogantly optimistic. Isn't that just ducky?
Christopher Hibbert tells us the story of the American Revolutionary War from the viewpoint of the British. The governors, the generals, the admirals, the politicians and the Loyalists. To one such as myself. raised to think of the British Empire as a monolithic Juggernaut, menacing all with the weight of its power, this is a startling and thought provoking read.
Hibbert shows us an Empire as a shambling, sleepy giant, slow to react, confused as to its aims and bewildered as to how to carry out its own decisions. It appears that the monolith had some cracks in the foundations. The British did not invent bureaucracy, but they embraced it with enthusiasm. For example, commissions in the army and navy were purchased. Thus officers from moneyed families able to purchase promotions, would be promoted over the heads of those with only experience in their portfolios. Positions in the government likewise often went to those with influence and the ambition to line their own pockets. The results were predictable. An example Hibbert points out will be instructive. Faced with difficulties in recruiting Englishmen to enlist for miserable pay, brutal conditions and the chance to go shoot other Englishmen, the government decided to fill their ranks with the king's OTHER subjects, from Hanover, in Germany. (Actually, many of these German troops were from Hesse, which is why the colonists called them all Hessians.) Sounds brilliant, right? Well, except that naturally nobody sends their best troops and equipment off to work for someone else, so when the trips arrived, they were shabby, and barefoot. Yup, I said barefoot. So, the bureaucrat in charge of boot emergencies sent off for footwear, which in time was delivered and found to be five thousand cases of dancing slippers. This delayed the sailing of the troop ships well into the stormy season, insuring that most of these troops arrived in the Americas on sick call.
Folly did not reside on only one side of the Atlantic. The British Commanders, Lord Howe, Sir William Clinton and General Burgoyne, detested and mistrusted each other. Howe was unimaginative and cranky, Clinton was a first class drama queen and quarrelsome. Then there was Burgoyne, who insisted on dragging thirty wagons of his personal possessions from Canada down to Lake Champlain and supposedly on down the Hudson. In what was then a howling wilderness, (literally, wolves followed the armies to eat the corpses) Burgoyne sat down nightly to a table set with fine porcelain, crystal and silver. Take that you rebellious peasants! When Howe finally prevailed upon his London associates to be recalled home, Clinton was elevated to Commander-in-Chief and Lord Cornwallis was sent to command in the South. Cornwallis thought he could do a better job than Clinton, and Clinton knew it. He thus refused every suggestion Cornwallis made. It was a lovely little war.
Hibbert tells his tale with gusto. His books are always well written and he did not disappoint me this time. This is history told vividly and from an unusal perspective. I give this one an A+....more