A Lily of the Field by John Lawton

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A Lily of the Field by John Lawton

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A sweeping and fast-paced thriller. Three different global locations and three very different individuals all hold a common thread as war rages across Europe - but what is it?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Grove Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1611856019

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The book opens in the early 1930s in Vienna where we meet one of the main characters; ten year old Meret. She's gifted musically and in particular in playing the cello. Even at this tender age, people are talking about her starry future on the world stage. She is the apple of her father's eye and soon she's being given extra musical tuition by a kind but much older man. He's old enough to be her grandfather but nevertheless they strike up a rather unusual friendship with music being the common denominator. But some of their conversations are serious and quite grown-up for a young girl, not yet into puberty. The tutor, Viktor Rosen is Jewish and has already suffered at the hands of the Germans. Meret progresses at such a pace that before you know it, she's performing in public. Her life appears to be wonderful and full of future promise.

Then everything changes. On March 14, 1938 the Germans took Vienna without a single shot being fired. Meret's world is turned upside down. Lawton gives us a flavour of the times and of how the Jewish people in general are now being treated. Less than kind, it would seem. There were Jews on their hands and knees scrubbing graffiti ... there was talk of rabbis being forced to clean public lavatories armed only with toothbrushes. These sentences conjure up dreadful images in the mind.

Lawton weaves an intricate and complex story-line as we travel between Britain, Auschwitz and Paris on a regular basis as we follow the lives of Meret and Viktor in particular. Around the half-way mark in the book there's a poignant and chilling quotation courtesy of one Viktor Frankl which is Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake. It's enough to make your heart stop for a minute, isn't it?

The first part of the novel sets the tone and also lets us know about the characters and particularly how they cope with a fast-changing and often brutal world. Lawton packs a lot into his sentences. Many are pregnant with meaning. This has the effect of giving his book a certain level of seriousness - even allowing for the genre. This is all good if you like a 'deep' thriller. The second part is more action-packed. But what came across as I was reading the book is that Lawton seems to want to tell his readers so much about so many subjects. Rather than at times, just leaving us with a nice line and then getting on with the narrative, he tends to give us a potted history. Fine up to a point. But Lawton went beyond 'fine' for me on quite a few occasions. He also likes to throw in a lot of well-known names expecting his readers to come to the table well-informed in order to squeeze out maximum enjoyment from the novel. Over-egging a perfectly good pudding, in my opinion. Having said all that, Lawton's style is intelligent and effortless on the page. And in the closing pages (or thereabouts) Lawton explains his evocative book title choice - and it's terrific. It's apt and poetic at the same time. Overall, an intricately-woven thriller-type read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton.

If this book appeals then try One Morning Like A Bird by Andrew Miller.

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Buy A Lily of the Field by John Lawton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Lily of the Field by John Lawton at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Lily of the Field by John Lawton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Lily of the Field by John Lawton at Amazon.com.


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