The Long Drawn Aisle by Simon Marshall

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The Long Drawn Aisle by Simon Marshall

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A meandering and original approach to the lead up and start of WWI. Sometimes satirical, sometimes stylishly verbose, poetic or stylistically Dickensian in its asides, we're given a view of a troubled Europe through the eyes of two brothers and their MP father.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 626 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Ronaldson Publications
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1899804214

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Edward and Richard Wilson are born into a comfortable and, indeed, powerful family. Their father is the MP Jack Wilson who is everything a Victorian father should be: severe, distant and occupied with his career. As the 20th century arrives and advances all three will feel the labour pains of conflict, the sons while living in Austria and the Balkans and their father through the lens of Britain's Parliament. It will be a bloody birth and its effects far reaching as two great empires prepare to fight, drawing in the rest of Europe.

History graduate and writer Simon Marshall became interested in Austrian history while studying for his MA. This fired his imagination to eventually write The Long Drawn Aisle.

The first thing that hits us in the novel is Simon's boldness in his mixing of styles. He goes from bird's eye view of a more ebullient Dickensian type narrative, rich in a verbosity that may not be to everyone's taste, to the description of the everyday, such as in moments of the family's domestic life and then from bluster to sensitivity and back again. This sensitivity is demonstrated particularly well during the death scene at the end of the first part of the novel (no spoilers!) showing a poeticism that materialises to surprise us from time to time throughout the story.

The book also brings us a different type of historical fiction in that it doesn't mention years or provide an obvious timeline. Historical events are occasionally mentioned in passing so that anyone with some knowledge of the period may work out roughly where we are. Indeed, this is very much a novel centring on the lives of the Wilsons and the political (with both big and small 'p's) circles in which they moved.

Simon also demonstrates another area of interest: the similarities between the Austrian and British empires. Jack Wilson is very like his Austrian counterparts with the same air of entitlement and struggling to retain a status quo that's slipping through the nations' fingers. Both countries have enjoyed a rich paternalistic past but how long can it go on?

There are other changes that define this era – e.g. women's suffrage - that we all learnt about in school. However, daily life in Austria wasn't so familiar to me. I was fascinated to read about the Austrian revolutionaries along with the xenophobia that gradually becomes more prevalent throughout the story.

We watch these particular aspects played out in-country as the very impressionable Edward falls into the company of the slightly eccentric Friedrich. Friedrich becomes our guide to the anarchic side of life although a side effect of his single focus is that we understand why Edward finds him irksome and yet compelling. Friedrich also irks the establishment Richard who is more like his father than Ed is, the subject of subtle intrigue at the beginning of the book.

There are moments in the novel when Simon overshoots the undoubtedly clever mix of satire and passionately epic narrative, trying a little too hard. However the next episodic instalment is never far away, showing his talent for relating a refreshingly unusual slant on a subject that is a popular backdrop during this, the First World War's centennial.

(We'd like to thank the author for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you'd like another unusual viewpoint on the First World War, we recommend The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P S Duffy which looks at some of the Canadians' experience.

You can read more about Simon Marshall here.

Simon's book is being launched from and the book can also be purchased online from there.

Buy The Long Drawn Aisle by Simon Marshall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Long Drawn Aisle by Simon Marshall at

Buy The Long Drawn Aisle by Simon Marshall at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Long Drawn Aisle by Simon Marshall at


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