We’ll Never Tell Them: Prologue

Setting Several Scenes
Last September Ignatius Press kindly gave me a copy of We’ll Never Tell Them by Fiorella de Maria to read and review. I doubt they’ll ever give me another book as it has taken me until now to write anything, and while I will post a short review on Amazon (hopefully by next weekend; I’ll link to it when it is done) I can’t bring myself to post a review on this blog.

At least, not a single one. I read We’ll Never Tell Them on and off during the last three months of 2015. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the book but rather because I am one part a slow reader, another part distracted easily, and a third part have a lot of other reading and writing commitments.

However, when I did read it I noticed something very unusual about the book: over and over again it seemed to change genre. One minute it was a war story a la Sebastian Faulks, the next a children’s boarding school novel a la Enid Blyton, then even – if only briefly – science fiction a la Kate Atkinson. I could go further. This ought to be a recipe for disaster in a book but in my first reading of We’ll Never Tell Them the narrative never failed or even seemed disjointed. It was an accomplished piece of writing.

Rather than writing a single review, therefore, I have decided to write an account of my second reading of the book. My first priority will be to show you what I mean when I say that the book seems to be a patchwork of genres. However, I enjoyed reading We’ll Never Tell Them very much. If, therefore, I can bring out some of the reasons why, as well as make any constructive criticisms that occur to me, I shall be very happy.

I will aim to write at least one post per chapter per week.

Before the prologue starts the book opens with a poem based on First World War soldier’s song that explains the book’s title. The lyrics, however, immediately subvert the idea that you are going to read a war novel.

And when they ask us, how dangerous it was,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, no, we’ll never tell them:
We spent our pay in some café,
And fought with wild women night and day,
‘Twas the cushiest job we ever had.

So, are we going to read a book about soldiers getting up to no good, then?

Certainly not. The photograph of the young woman on the front cover has already alerted us to that and in the prologue another shift takes place. In fact, it introduces us to that woman. Her name is Kristjana and we meet her as she steps into a crypt in Jerusalem.

Kristjana is in a great deal of pain. The narrator calls this ‘her darkest hour’, and describes Kristjana as a ‘deserter’ and ‘refugee’. We must remember the former word as it will play an important part in the war aspect of the story later on. In the meantime, We’ll Never Tell Them has in the space of two pages gone from war story, to soldiers behaving badly, to general fiction (perhaps with a touch of the Young Adult?) – the tale of a woman on the edge.

As for Kristjana, the prognosis is not good for it is not the past she is running from but the void that she sees in the future. At this point, We’ll Never Tell Them could go in any number of literary directions. Maybe it will be about Kristjana’s salvation, or annihilation; it could be a story of hope or long drawn out death. Or maybe, even, all of the above.

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