The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
Alexander Cole, Corvus, 2014, pb, 393pp, 97808578911501
Alexander the Great dropped dead during an orgy in Babylon in 323 BC, or so we are told. Or was it poison? In any case the twenty-something conqueror of most of the known world did not live to lead another campaign. Had he lived, what might have been his next conquest?
Alexander Cole gives us an answer in this account of Alexander’s Carthaginian and Sicilian campaigns, which of course never happened. Although this is not historical fiction in the usual sense it is based on solid research and a deep knowledge of the period. Most of the characters are real historical figures and I am sure that they would have acted as they did had Alexander lived to lead them or oppose them.
The Colossus of the title is not Alexander but a war-elephant acquired on his Indian campaigns. Not that the book is really about the elephant but about his mahavat, Gajendra, and his love, Mara, a captive Carthaginian princess.
The elephant boy becomes a general, saves the life of his hero, Alexander, and then falls in love with the woman sworn to kill him, eventually becoming instrumental in Alexander’s death.
At one level this is a ‘sword and sandals’ epic, with all the excitement and panoply of war (there are three set piece battles plus deadly skirmishes), but it is also an unusual love story and the story of an ambitious young man who learns the dangers of ambition and the futility of imperialism.
Postponing Alexander’s death does not change history in the longer term. As Cole admits, Alexander was always going to die young and his early death was a mercy for mankind. As one of Alexander’s generals says to Gajendra, ‘Alexander has a lion by its tail and as soon as lets go it will eat him.’
Liza Perrat, Triskele Books, 2013, pb, 395pp, 9782954168128
The French Resistance is the stuff of legend; clandestine adventures in which a plucky few outwit a powerful, brutal enemy. No wonder it is the setting for so many historical novels, but it is easy to tell it as a simple Robin Hood story and to forget the difficult moral choices, the divided loyalties, the betrayals and the sheer horror of the round of assassinations and reprisals.
None of this escapes Liza Perrat. Wolfsangel is a disturbing novel and not bedtime reading. It was inspired by the author’s visit to the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane in west-central France, which was totally destroyed and the inhabitants systematically killed by the German army in June 1944. (To be fair the German military authorities recognised this as a war crime and held a court of inquiry, which found that the principal culprits had already been killed in Normandy). Supposedly the village was destroyed by mistake, the product of a map reading error, but since the objective was to set an example, the exact location hardly mattered.
Liza Perrat transposes this incident to a fictional village near Lyon, where she weaves the story around a young farm girl, Celeste, who triggers the massacre and has to live with the guilt. By the time the story reaches its terrible climax we know the lives, loves, loyalties and betrayals of most of the families in the village and we know and care about Celeste and her love affair with a German officer and about her mother, the covert abortionist who has to take her daughter as a patient after a brutal rape. We also get to know the beautiful countryside of the Lyonnais where Liza Perrat has her home.
The closest parallel I know to this book is Joanne Harris’ Five Quarters of the Orange. If you liked this, as they say in Amazon, then you will enjoy Wolfsangel.
Liza is an expatriate Australian who writes in English and clearly loves France. This is her second novel. Her first novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, is a tale of the French Revolution set in the same farmhouse which is Celste’s home in Wolfsangel. Both these books are published by the writers’ co-operative to which Liza belongs, Triskele Books. I will be interviewing Liza later in this bolg to talk to her about her work and Triskele,