The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith
|The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: Although this is a World War II story, and there is sadness and horror, McCall Smith manages to capture the atmosphere of the times, and imbue it with his usual gentle positivity and optimism.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: November 2017|
|Publisher: Polygon (An Imprint of Birlinn Limited)|
|External links: Author's website|
If you've never read an Alexander McCall Smith novel, but have always thought you might like to try, one day then this might be the book to start with. Rather than face the daunting task of leaping into one of his now very long-running series, this is a standalone novel, and it gives a good flavour of AMS's style, the way he can write to evoke a feeling of time and place, and the warm optimism underlying his words that is so very reassuring and comforting to read. It calls itself 'a wartime romance', which it is, and yet it is much more than that besides. Focussing mainly on Val, a young woman working as a Land Girl, we see her falling in love with an American pilot, Mike Rogers. Thanks to a sheepdog on Val's farm (the Peter Woodhouse from the title) their lives become entwined with that of a German soldier, and the book shows us a variety of friendships as they grow and develop over the years.
There's a lovely mixture of characters within the book, and even some of those with smaller roles leave lasting impressions. Whilst Val herself is a good leading lady I found myself particularly fond of the gentle farmer that Val goes to work for, Archie. He was one of those characters who I could picture almost immediately, and who I looked forward to hearing more about. I also enjoyed the way the stories of the different characters wound their way together throughout the book. Ubi, a German soldier who is later a prisoner of war, is a very interesting and likeable character, which is unusual for a war story. The story moves from events in England to across the channel, showing us occupied Holland and then later, post-war Germany and the struggles in Berlin, and I think some of the later moments in the book were the most affecting. WWII stories tend to focus entirely on war-torn Britain, so it was unusual to read of the devastation left in Germany, and particularly Berlin, after the war. Whilst Val's love story is sweet and moving, I think I preferred Ubi's story as I found it more interesting and engaging.
During the German part of the story, there is the appearance of a widow who has inherited an old 'Motordrome' or a wall of death. I had a rather strange sense of deja vu on reading this, certain that I had read something by AMS before that dealt with a wall of death. It nagged away in my head for quite some time until I gave up trying to remember and, with some googling, I managed to discover that he'd written a series of Christmas stories for BBC Radio 4 last Christmas and one of those was called 'Motordrome'! I wish I could remember the story better to know whether it's based around the same characters, or if perhaps this novel grew from that short story. Still, I was relieved that I was losing my mind and that I had correctly remembered the link between AMS and motorbikes and a wall of death!
Peter Woodhouse, the dog of the story, is initially a working sheepdog on a different farm. His owner there, however, treats him badly and so he is rescued and relocated to Archie's farm where he ends up visiting the nearby airbase and become a mascot for the airmen, and even flying with them across the channel! He remains, for the most part, a shadow of a character, so don't worry if you're a bit anti 'dog stories'! Towards the end of the book I confess that I became a little nervous that the whole story would be wrapped up with a final chapter all about Peter Woodhouse's storyline, just because he's in the title of the book. Fortunately, however, his resolution was followed by an afterword about some of the humans involved, otherwise it might have been a bit too twee even for me! Peter Woodhouse is a lynchpin within the book, and it is through contact with the dog in some way that many of the characters are brought together. And I still can't bring myself to call him just Peter, since his name is quite clearly Peter Woodhouse!
The story is easy to read, and delicately balances the desperate tragedies of war time with the warmth of seeing people living their everyday lives through and after the war. Though he does not shy away from sadness, AMS always manages to emphasise the joy, and the love, and the small happinesses that make up all of our lives. I am once more back to waiting for the next book (thank goodness he writes so many!), because I devoured this far too quickly! But it was a lovely cosying-up sort of read, and certainly one that I'd recommend.
Further reading suggestion: You might also enjoy another war story by McCall Smith La's Orchestra Saves the World.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon.com.
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