Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn

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Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A will-they-won't-they love story between two people with differing social views - one an ardent believer in the rights of women and the other who has never had to fight for any belief, until the Great War breaks out. Combining the suffragette movement with county cricket. Howzat? Brilliant as it turns out.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224087292

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At heart, Half of the Human Race is a 'will they, won't they' love story featuring an upper class, emerging county cricketer, Will Maitland, and a middle class strong, educated, cricket-loving woman, Constance Callaway. But this is so much more than a question of will the cricketer bowl a maiden over? It's a novel about friendship, love, fighting for what you believe in and, also, surprisingly, about celebrity.

The book is set in that fascinating period of British history from the end of Queen Victoria's long reign to the Great War. It's no surprise that this is an attractive period for writers as this was an age of such contrasts and emerging political and social change. It was a period of that British idyl of the idle rich having the freedom to not grow up, until of course the outbreak of war when those that survived had to grow up fast, while so many never got the chance. It was also a period of ideas, not least among them the key theme running through this book of the issue of the suffragette movement and the opportunities for women to be more than homemakers. Constance is an educated young woman but her nascent career in medicine has been cut short when the family falls on hard times and all the available funds are diverted to her brother's education. On a family holiday she meets for the first time the young cricketer, Will, but their mutual attraction initially founders due to Will's traditional views that a woman should be seen and not heard.

I've mentioned the cricket theme a number of times already and I confess that as a cricket-lover, there's no doubt that enhanced my enjoyment of the book. However, aware that probably more than 'half of the human race' do not share this passion, it's fair to point out that there is no need to share this cricketing enthusiasm. What I would say is that novels featuring sports often fail to replicate the joy of the real thing, but this book is a notable exception. It would be misleading to over-play the role it has in the story, but suffice to say that where it does feature, it is realistic, authentic and belies a true passion for the game shown by the writer. Will's friend at the cricket club is a former England batting legend, Andrew Tamburlain, now in the twilight of his great career and the portrait of a celebrity at the end of his career is exceptional and moving.

Of course, the main thread is role of women and the suffragette movement. Constance is an ardent believer in the rights of women to have the vote and slowly gets drawn into more radical action. While one person's terrorist is so often another's martyr, the descriptions of the public reaction to Emily Davison's loss of life when she attempted to stop the King's horse in the Derby described in this book brings to the modern mind disturbing similarities with suicide bombers of today. The question of how far will someone go to support what they believe in is a running theme here.

For Will, who in his privileged position has had little need for beliefs of any kind, he cannot understand such extreme actions. But then of course came the Great War when beliefs were thrust upon the young men and who ended up making extraordinary sacrifices. Will this help him understand Constance? You will have to wait until well into the second half of the book for the war to even start and still longer to discern its impact on Will. And by then, how will Constance's circumstances have altered?

It's one of those books that really transports you back to the time in which it is set. If I were to be ultra critical, I got the sense that the author is more authentic writing about the male characters, but to counter this, Constance is an exceptionally strong character and so it is perhaps not surprising that some of her actions appear somewhat surprising.

Anthony Quinn's first novel won him the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award and I would not be at all surprised if this novel features amongst this year's literary prizes and I'm sure it will be amongst my personal favourites for this year. Full of personal drama and tragedy in a traumatic age, this is very highly recommended.

Many thanks to the kind folk at Jonathan Cape for inviting The Bookbag to review this hugely enjoyable book.

For more on the social changes in this period, The Children's Book by A S Byatt covers very much the same period in history and is equally brilliant.

Buy Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn at Amazon.com.

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