"He wanted not to have to get to know her- which seemed a frightening process- but to know her already."
Small Wars by Sadie Jones tells the story of Hal Treherne, a Major in the British Army who is transferred to Cyprus to defend the colony in 1956 and takes along his wife Clara as well as their twin young daughters. However despite spending their nights in the same bed, Clara and Hal begin to inhabit two different worlds. As Hal experiences the battlefield after years of peaceful work, he finds himself struggling as he attempts to do the right thing. Meanwhile, Clara is not used to the anxiety that comes with Hal risking his life but finds herself even less prepared for the changes present when her husband does return home. Small Wars is a story which is both political and personal, culminating in a betrayal that Hal and Clara could never have imagined.
My initial interest in Small Wars was definitely due to the unusual setting. After falling absolutely in love with The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, which also involves a love story of foreigners in a new country during a morally messy time, I could only hope that Small Wars would offer the same passionate images. However, the power of Small Wars is not obvious from the first page, it builds slowly throughout the novel, rising subtly until the characters have formed a place in the reader's heart almost without you realizing it.
The novel offers a quiet strength, and particularly at first I did not find myself attached to either Hal or Clara, and although by the end I was definitely invested in their fates I never felt like they really broach the distance between reader and character. I often craved an emotional connection with the characters that seemed to be missing. Perhaps this is due to the distance between the characters themselves, as for Hal and Clara most of their journey happens internally and I often couldn't help wishing they would just speak to each other. At times I found the fact that they continued to sweep all issues under the rug and let the distance grow incredibly frustrating; as well as occasionally unbelievable.
Hal feels shy of Clara even after knowing her for nearly a decade, and his refusal to discuss what he is feeling has predictably awful consequences. I realize that, in agreement with the time period, Hal was probably trying to protect Clara but it seems to have the opposite effect and I wondered at times if in such a situation both parties would really have said nothing to each other? Jones wants the reader to believe that these two individuals really love each other, but love must be based on some degree of trust, which Clara and Hal seem to lack in each other. I especially wanted more from Clara as a character, as she seemed to suspect something was wrong with Hal but seemed content to keep her resentment a secret to herself. With so much of the story happening inside Clara and Hal's heads, Small Wars unfortunately became slow and difficult to connect with at times.
Despite the faults I found with the characters of Small Wars, I did enjoy Jones' writing. Although the entire novel is written in the third person, Jones switches flawlessly from Hal to Clara's narrative and expertly builds to the story's violent climax. Her prose is meticulous and clean, and despite telling a war story full of moral ambiguity Jones does not resort to melodrama or graphic imagery, instead settling on a few powerful incidents. The result is that the reader does not become numb from the violence, and the few times it does occur the images- for example, when Hal is forced to shoot a horse after its front legs have been blown off- are extremely memorable. Ultimately, Small Wars provides well-written insight into not only 1950s Cyprus but the impact of war in general told through characters which unfortunately are difficult to emotionally connect with.
Release Date: August 18th, 2009Pages: 384
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.