The Web and the Wing by Teresa Raftery
|The Web and the Wing by Teresa Raftery|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Brilliantly-researched interwar saga following its cast of characters through events in Britain, Germany and Spain. Relatable characters are illuminated by class divides and the novel goes a long way towards explaining an historical context that saw the world break into yet another frenzy of death and destruction a mere thirty years after the Great War ended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 384||Date: September 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
I love a good family saga, don't you? The Web and the Wing begins at the end of World War I. Claire returns to her pre-war job as a maid at Ardleagh Hall, home of the Earl of Eglinton. But Claire wants more than a life in service. She wants education and independence. And she wants away from Ardleagh for another reason too - rigid social rules mean that she can never declare her love for James, heir to the Eglinton title. James feels the same about Claire but he too has personal reasons for wanting to escape - his father will not countenance his musical ambitions. After the disastrous miners' strike of 1926, James leaves for Berlin to become a concert pianist. From here, he observes the rise of Hitler with mounting concern.
In Spain, the Earl's vivacious sister Amelia looks for ways to escape a country fomenting with violent revolt and her marriage to a powerful estate owner whose ties to the military connect him to the rise of fascism. In Britain, the Earl clings desperately to a set of rules and way of life that was destroyed by the Great War and continues to ignore the needs of his long-suffering wife, Margaret.
We, of course, know what's going to happen. But our characters don't and we watch them with trepidation as disaster looms ever closer...
Occasionally, The Web and the Wing suffers from information overload. There is an amount of telling, not showing, and dialogue is sometimes used as exposition. It slows you down as a reader and puts up a block between you and the characters. When your themes intend to shed light on great events, you must strike a balance between didacticism and credibility. Real people don't share history lessons in conversation because they are talking to people who have the same understandings and assumptions as themselves. And dialogue isn't credible - or interesting - if it's used as an information dump. If Raftery could clean this up, her book would be the better for it.
But I don't want to put you off. The Web and the Wing is beautifully researched. Raftery has a clear grasp on the interwar European context and it's important that we don't forget how and why the world launched itself into a second cataclysm barely thirty years after the Great War ended. A family saga can draw all the threads together and make sense of them through its characters and Raftery has succeeded in showing us how events in Britain, Germany and Spain were irretrievably interconnected. She charts the decline of the English aristocracy through the Eglintons, the bullishness of the Spanish estate owners, and the desperation of the German people after the Treaty of Versailles that enabled the rise of Hitler.
The characters are interesting - I particularly enjoyed the thwarted love affair between James and Claire and the rebellious Amelia. But it was the suffocated Lady Margaret I really rooted for, stuck grieving for a dead son in a stifling marriage. Money and position doesn't bring happiness, you know.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Web and the Wing and will look forward to the second and third books in this planned trilogy. Just a little tightening up of the dialogue next time, please!
Ken Follett has also followed the interwar period in his Century of Giants trilogy.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Web and the Wing by Teresa Raftery at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Web and the Wing by Teresa Raftery at Amazon.com.
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