Turbulence by Giles Foden

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Turbulence by Giles Foden

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The weather scientists tasked with finding the best window for D-Day add up to a muddled and drifting look at personality, relationships, wartime science and so on. Changeable, brighter later.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571205226

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Wherever you look, this is the most English Giles Foden book yet. There is frustrating science, awkward relationships, and - as it is England - a lot about a more than variable climate. But whereas his first book gained a lot from a snappy summary - a dictator, as seen by his doctor - this one does not fall down so simply as World War II, as seen through the weather. Which might be the biggest problem.

Henry Meadows is a weather researcher during the war, tasked with accumulating as much data as he can to aid the air force, navy and more, when he is whisked into the higher echelons of the war effort. The end goal is to determine the best forecasts he can work out to make the D-Day Landings as efficient as possible. But before that he must pack himself off to the Clyde, and wrangle secrets from a certain isolated scientist.

I had no problems with this particular task for Meadows, but the way he writes about it - years after the event - is a bit of a let-down. He can tease us with Big Events of his narrative, just brushing their surface before we see quite what he meant many pages later - like an author, but he cannot retell his journey without ten quite alienating pages about referring to all the seemingly chaotic turbulence in the air, wind and snow en route - like a geek.

This seems to be Foden's research and exposition writ too large. He seems from my ignorant eyes to have nailed the science of wartime meteorology, and at the end we find clues to just which of his characters are based on fiction. And while it's never too clunky or stuffy as we learn the processes of launching weather balloons and so on, the book lost some by opening away from that into the welter of other aspects we get.

So this is not one of those marvellous books we chance upon entering us entirely into a subject we thought not worthy of such a sustained novel (Perfume as regards perfume the best example). Instead we get scientists' characters, with insularity, egoism, naivety, and more; we see Meadows as a fish out of water (especially when it comes to women, and especially pairs thereof); we see Meadows' lacklustre espionage, as the book drifts awkwardly towards D-Day. And, as this is Foden, we get a bit of Africa.

There is a case to be said for the second half to be tighter, more sustained, and even though we know when the ticking clock and the turning calendar will sit still at last, the drive is more evident there. But even with that to its credit there is a sense of a missed opportunity - I wasn't completely sold on Meadows as a narrator, the framing of the thing is very disposable, and as far as we do get to enjoy the character, with his problems, back-story, foibles and tragedies, there is a greater and I think better story to be told were the book to have had a different balance.

Foden can still generally put a more than decent page together - the characters are done well (vicar asides), there are telling wartime details put in to create the mood and scene, and I wasn't ever regretting picking this up. I did wish however that our author had been as focused as Meadows.

We must thank Faber and Faber's kind people for our review copy.

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by Michael Morpurgo is more than D-Day for Children. Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War by Sandra Koa Wing does what it says on the tin. We can still recommend The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies as the best wartime novel of recent years.

There is an unseen alternative ending to this novel in Ox-Tales: Water by Oxfam, which takes the framing story a lot further, in quite a dramatic way. If you enjoyed the novel, it’s well worth investigating this DVD extra.

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Buy Turbulence by Giles Foden at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Turbulence by Giles Foden at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Turbulence by Giles Foden at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Turbulence by Giles Foden at Amazon.com.


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