Notwithstanding , book cover

Review of Louis de Bernières Short Stories of English Village Life

The author Louis de Bernières grew up in a Surrey village and the short stories in Notwithstanding reflect memories of rural idyllic childhood and English eccentricity.

Notwithstanding is a collection of short tales mostly set in a fictional English village from which the book takes its title. Each takes a small event or episode and essentially describes a nostalgic view of village life as it is remembered by the author from his childhood. The period described is mainly the 1960s as Britain came out of post-war austerity but whilst many elements of pre-war life are still remembered. Indeed many older people were still trying to live that pre-war life in the face of major cultural and social change.

A Small Cast of Characters

In Notwithstanding, both the village and book, there is a small cast of characters who appear in each other’s stories. They cover the full range from the innocence of childhood to the discomfort of the elderly in a time of change. There is a particular attention on the young and the aged.

Notwithstanding explores the freedoms of rural England in the 1960s and the acceptance of eccentricity especially when it was more extreme. In fact de Bernières makes the point that the English are less tolerant of minor oddities but fully accepting of full-blown eccentricity for which the English are renowned.

Bitter Sweet

All the stories are written with great affection for the people they feature. They look kindly on oddity but there is often a bitter sweet edge to many of the tales. Indeed some stories are very sad as older people face up to the life they have known disappearing. It leaves them in a world they do not recognise or understand and with which they struggle to cope.

An Easy Read and Affectionately Nostalgic

The stories are easy reading and are generally very short. This would make Notwithstanding an ideal book for dipping into. It is therefore a good bedtime read. The stories have underlying message without being obscure or demanding. Notwithstanding is therefore a simply pleasant read.

Nostalgic Memories of Rural Idyll, or Fiction?

The author Louis de Bernières is probably best remembered for his novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin which was made into a film starring Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, John Hurt, Christian Bale, David Morrissey, Irene Papas.

Louis de Bernières grew up in a Surrey village in the South of England and Notwithstanding was intended to be a reminiscence of those times. However he came to realise that much was a false memory and it was seen through rose-tinted glasses.

In the Afterword he explains how the fiction writer in him took over and produced these fictional stories more loosely based on characters he met during his childhood in that rural village. He makes the point that for most there never was a rural idyll as work was hard and not well paid. The freedom those times provided for children gives rise to that nostalgia for simpler times.

Notwithstanding (2009, ISBN: 978-1-846-55331-8) is published in paperback by Harvill Secker (part of Random House) at £12.99.

 

First appeared on Suite101

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