|Date Published||23 August 2018|
Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Late one evening, shortly after the British army's retreat to Corunna, a very sick man is taken by cab to a house in Somerset. He is received by the sole occupant, the housekeeper, who proceeds to care for him.
Rather, it is the story of a man deeply traumatised by his wartime experience and the way in which this is explained draws heavily on a modern understanding of the psychological as well as the physical damage that war can inflict. It is also a novel of suspense in which the hero remains an enigma until the very end. Finally, it is a very touching love story, largely because both partners feel themselves unworthy and unlikely to find happiness with another person.
John Lacroix has returned from the war virtually an invalid, and is cared for by his long-time housekeeper. The tenderness that she brings to the task is described very effectively in some detail. Such is her dedication that it seems almost churlish when he is more or less recovered and suddenly decides to go travelling into the Scottish islands – a result of his discovery that his regiment wants him to return when he is well enough. For reasons that become clear only much later, this is something he cannot even begin to contemplate.
Whilst Lacroix’s decision to leave home is made in order to avoid having to return to army life, it is, although he does not know it, fortunate for him that he does so. Following an incident in the retreat to Corunna, in which he was somehow involved, a decision has been made at a high political level that he should be disposed of.
Lacroix begins at the house of his sister, living in Bristol, and makes his way north via Glasgow to the islands off the coast of Scotland. During this time he is constantly haunted by whatever it was that took place in Spain and which has caused him nightmares ever since. The reader has already been given an account of what happened, in the form of a military enquiry, but there is every reason for the reader to doubt the truth of it. Consequently the exact nature of the events that so affected Lacroix remains a mystery until the end of the novel.
There is a very touching and tender beginning to the love story when Lacroix, in his movement from one island to the next, comes across a family – a brother and two sisters – of free-thinking and radical Christians. He is instantly attracted to the elder of the sisters, an attraction that only grows stronger when he realises that she is going blind.
The three themes that take up the remainder of the novel are the gradual disclosure of the events in Spain, the outcome of the pursuit of Lacroix and, of course, the love story. One of the most pleasing characteristics of the novel is the way in which the author takes his time. There is a substantial plot but it never dominates. I found myself feeling that all will be revealed but I was in no way impatient for the revelation to take place. Eventually two of the themes are brought to a conclusion, though there is some ambiguity about the third. Whether this suggests the possibility of a sequel is a matter for conjecture but, were there to be one, it would be welcome.
Reviewed 08 December 2018 by Arnold Taylor