* WINNER OF THE HIGHLAND BOOK PRIZE *
* SHORTLISTED FOR THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE *
The rapturously acclaimed new novel by the Costa Award-winning author of PURE, hailed as ‘excellent’, ‘gripping’, ‘as suspenseful as any thriller’, ‘engrossing’, ‘moving’ and ‘magnificent’.
One rainswept winter’s night in 1809, an unconscious man is carried into a house in Somerset. He is Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.
Gradually Lacroix recovers his health, but not his peace of mind. He will not – cannot – talk about the war or face the memory of what took place on the retreat to Corunna. After the command comes to return to his regiment, he lights out instead for the Hebrides, unaware that he has far worse to fear than being dragged back to the army: a vicious English corporal and a Spanish officer with secret orders are on his trail.
In luminous prose, Miller portrays a man shattered by what he has witnessed, on a journey that leads to unexpected friendships, even to love. But as the short northern summer reaches its zenith, the shadow of the enemy is creeping closer. Freedom, for John Lacroix, will come at a high price. Taut with suspense, this is an enthralling, deeply involving novel by one of Britain’s most acclaimed writers.
‘His writing suspends life until it is read and is a source of wonder and delight’ Hilary Mantel on Casanova in the Sunday Times
This magnificent novel was chosen by the members of the book group I attend and I absolutely adored it.
Rich in period detail, I often found myself feeling as if I was walking the streets of 1809 with the marvellous Captain John Lacroix. It felt as if I was enveloped by the noises and people of the period, so much so that the modern world around disappeared while I read. The writer managed to bring the period and events to life with a deft hand and a feeling for the claustrophobia of the city and the wild openness of the Hebrides.
The characterisation is wonderful. Lacroix initially comes across as a man lying on the edge of death, but as he recovers, he blossoms into a character of immense depth, both emotional and physical. The demons that torment him, give his journey to find peace an added sense of pathos. Each step he takes as he travels north sees him growing stronger physically, yet the memories that torment him can no longer remain buried and as they bubble to the surface, Miller’s portrayal of a tormented man, becomes a tour de force in immersive story telling. Though he is the central character, Miller also gives us Emily, an independent minded woman, whose desperate search for a cure to her worsening blindness seems to mirror Lacroix’s search for freedom and peace. Her role was for me to emphasise his essential humanity and provide a means by which he can gain redemption and as important as she is to Lacroix’s story, her own story should not be dismissed. It gives the tale added depth, discussing her search for a life not dependant on the whims of her brother and the mysterious and absent Thorpe, gives us a view into the reality of life for women during this period, while acting as a narrative tool to take forward Lacroix’s story forward. She is strong and as wonderful as any character in this book. Just as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, was courageous and not subservient to Mr Rochester, neither is Emily to the towering Lacroix.
It is not a novel of grand events! The best way to describe it can be found in Johanna Thomas-Carr’s review in the Observer online (14/8/2018), it is a delicately woven tale of sultry moods. It highlights both the effect war has on those caught up in the conflicts, both military personal and those civilians directly caught up in the horror and those at home. It is one of the best illustrations on post-traumatic stress syndrome I have read in any historical tale. yet does it speaks of it in an almost detached way, through supressed memories and a journey laden with moments of violence, but also quiet tender reflection.
I have never read Andrew Miller before, but it will not be the last time I grab one of his books. Book clubs do not just provide a social connection with other readers; they also bring new authors into a reader’s world. Thank you Waterstones Cardiff Book club for introducing me to this exceptional tale.
About the author
Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. He has lived in Spain, Japan, Ireland and France, and currently lives in Somerset. His first novel, INGENIOUS PAIN, was published by Sceptre in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. He has since written five novels: CASANOVA, OXYGEN, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Booker Prize in 2001, THE OPTIMISTS, ONE MORNING LIKE A BIRD, and PURE, which won the Costa Book of the Year award in 2011. His most recent novel, THE CROSSING, was published by Sceptre in 2015.