In Love and War by Alex Preston
In Love and War by Alex Preston
First Published in: 2014. Released in paperback tomorrow
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 3.75/5 stars
Find it/buy it here: In Love and War
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Faber & Faber in exchange for my honest review.
In Love and War is Alex Preston’s third novel. Set in Florence, Italy in the 1930s and 40s, it is an epic tale of love and war. Esmond is a young Englishman who has been sent to Florence, in part to escape scandal he brought on his family in England, but primarily to strengthen relationships between the British Union of Fascists and Mussolini’s government. His primary responsibility is to set up a radio station that will promote fascist ideals and highlight important cultural works from Italy. When Esmond arrives in Florence he meets an interesting cast of characters (many of them real historical people like Norman Douglas) who ultimately challenge his original viewpoints and political stance.
The novel is broken into five parts, one of which is composed largely of letters and correspondence to Esmond from a variety of people including his father, sister, ex-lover, and a publishing house. The novel’s tone begins light and humorous but becomes much darker as the war progresses. Esmond goes from a young and naive young man with with a penchant for partying and no true political ideals to a resistance fighter who endures hardship to help those he loves. Through it all, he is writing his own novel titled “In Love and War,” which is he trying to get published. The changes he makes to his novel highlight the changes his character is experience while living in Florence at the height of the war.
I really enjoyed the book and it definitely merited more than 3 stars. It was well written and interesting. I knew very little about the British Union of Fascists during World War II and this book motivated me to do a little of my own research. Many of the characters were based on real people and the actions described really did occur. What was especially compelling was to see a different perspective about the British involvement in WWII and how a relatively large segment of the population espoused fascist beliefs. Of course, as the war progressed and the party became more radical, it became significantly less popular and was ultimately banned.
I couldn’t quite give the book a 4-star rating despite enjoying quite a bit. The beginning was fairly slow and, in some respects, reminded me of The Green Hat by Arlen (which I didn’t particularly care for). In addition, I didn’t find the love story to be very compelling. Interestingly, Esmond is a bisexual character who was initially sent off to Florence to avoid the scandal over a homosexual affair. When he arrives in Florence he is attracted to, and has sexual relationships with, both men and women. I actually like books that include a diversity of characters and liked the idea of a bisexual man as a main character since it is virtually impossible to find any books from the time period where the “hero” isn’t a heterosexual man. But the relationships in this novel didn’t feel very genuine and, at times, read mostly like plot devices. Honestly, I would have preferred for Esmond to remain in one relationship and see that relationship develop over time rather than have him skip from one person to the next to help move the plot along.
Despite my issues with it, I wholeheartedly recommend the book and I will be looking to read more by this author. What is interesting about the book is not the love story, it’s the story of how war is transformative. It is a compelling read that highlights a different perspective from many other WWII historical fiction novels. After the relatively slow start, the pace picks up and it becomes hard to put down. The writing is very strong and the structure is interesting and effective in giving readers a very accurate sense of how events progressed in Italy in the late 1930s and 40s. If you like historical fiction, you will enjoy this book.
If you want to try it for yourself you can find your copy here: In Love and War.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read any others by Alex Preston?