The Disagreement by Nick Taylor

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The Disagreement by Nick Taylor

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A simple romance with the American Civil War as the back drop, a little like Gone With the Wind. It's quite a quick read, although it is very basic and is let down by a weak ending.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 368 Date: December 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 978-1416550655

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I don't know a huge amount about the American Civil War, other than that the South seems to have come out of it with the best accents and the better music. In contrast, they do appear to have got the worst of the weather, when you consider hurricanes in Florida and the events in New Orleans a few years ago. Given that neither accents nor the weather tend to play a huge part in a novel, The Disagreement was going to be something different from anything I know.

John Alan Muro is a young boy when Virginia secedes from the Union and soon becomes embroiled in Civil War. Having scorned young John Alan's decision to become a doctor before the war his father, himself a former doctor turned mill owner, sends him off to the University of Virginia to avoid him being called up to the army and suffering the fate of a cousin, who returned from the war with a missing leg. John Alan has had to adjust his dreams as well, wanting to go to a better medical college, but with all of them being in the Northern states, he has to settle for what he can get.

Once at University, John Alan finds out a lot more about life in general and even more about how hard life can be when you're on the losing side in a war. He is quickly thrust into service as a doctor, even before he has finished his training and he struggles to heal the sick and wounded with the hospital's drug supplies dwindling. Fortunately, there is Lorrie Wigfall, the niece of one of John Alan's tutors, who makes life easier to bear. But as John Alan becomes closer to his patients, particularly to one of his enemy, he becomes more estranged from his family.

Despite the interesting sounding concept, of hospital work with the Civil War in the background, the novel didn't really deliver as much as I'd hoped. The war is usually a long way away and only affects John Alan in the slightest of ways, with him seeing what has happened on the front, but never having any actual involvement. He gets news of the war and he treats the casualties of war, but the fighting itself is never real to him, or to us. Names from the history books sometimes get mentioned to authenticate the setting, but the real fighting is so distant that the reader is often able to forget that it's going on at all.

The whole novel has this same very basic feel. Although this is largely John Alan's story, there is a fairly large cast of characters, but none of them are particularly well drawn. Even before he's become sensitised to his patients, you never get a feeling that John Alan feels anything for what he's witnessing. This is even more obvious during his romance with Lorrie Wigfall, as there was so little obvious emotion that I wasn't sure if either of them were really in love. The ease with which John Alan distanced himself from his family was cold and hard as well which, had it been set up better, could have shown how the war had changed him, but here just made him seem like someone unable to feel.

The story generally lacked a lot of depth. There is potentially a very wide story here, with John Alan's struggles to treat patients and the romance with Lorrie to the forefront. These parts take a kind of priority, but there are also hints of John Alan's relationship with his family and with his roommate that could have developed into something more, but were left behind. For much of the novel, it feels like Taylor has plenty in hand, but just didn't have the time or the talent to fit it all in. With so much happening and with the backdrop of the Civil War, this could quite easily have become another Gone With the Wind, but Taylor touched on so much only so briefly that it feels more like a breeze; something you can feel, but which ends up having no real impact on you.

To Taylor's credit, however, this is a very readable story. Given that it's written in the more formal style of English that would have been in use at the time, I didn't really expect that, but the style of language had virtually no effect on the story at all that I could discern. Particularly early on, he writes in quite short chapters similar to James Patterson, which keeps the pages turning and I found myself a long way into the book before I realised it. Unfortunately, I suspect that's because very little of the story stood out and wasn't something that requires the reader to concentrate terribly hard. It's not a bad read if all you're looking for is something to pass the time, but it has so little impact you may end up reading it without knowing exactly what it is you're reading.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might enjoy Touching Distance by Rebecca Abrams.

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