An attempt by a half way educated Kiwi, who reads just a bit, to get his puny mind around the great world of literature!!
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Four Days In June - Iain Gale
I am a fan of historical fiction even though some scholars consider it frivolous and pointless. I had an argument with a lecturer several years ago on the merits of historical fiction. He isn't a particularly good historian in my opinion and is a complete bore in his opinions! What I shot him done with was the amount of scholars who actually write historical fiction!! Take Frenchman Max Gallo for instance who has written non-fictional works on The Night of the Long Knifes, etc, and yet made a name for himself writing novels about Napoleon. It is a valid genre and very popular with the reading community to my mind.
I like the genre as it can provide an easy starting point in reading history. It uses real events, dates, people, etc, in an easy introductuary way, so when the reader moves onto non-fictional works they have a basic framework in place to work from. I learnt a huge amount of history through fictional readings as a boy and into my late teens. It made reading non-fictional history much easier and I'm a strong believer in it's worth to anyone interested in history.
Iain Gale in Four Days of June has written a somewhat simplistic over view of the Battle of Waterloo. I like his idea of describing the battle through various historical figures and his attempt to get into their minds and 'see' the battle through their eyes.. He takes us through Napoleon, Ney, Ziethen, De Lancey, and Mcdonell, as his main protagonsits of the battle. Admittedly it isn't an original way of writing but it gives Gale brevity in what is a rather basic and simplistic novel.
Unfotunatley Gale has also written a carbon copy of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's novels. They read the same way with the same basic writing style. I just couldn't help but escape the feeling of deja vu after having read Sharpe's Waterloo only a few months ago. It was one of the weaker Sharpe's novs in my opinion and Gale has written something even weaker. The problem is not so much a lack of knowledge as it is a lack of actually having been there. When you compare this against The Boat and All Quiet on the Western Front, and even the novels of Sven Hassel this is somewhat lame. His descriptions of the battle would satisfy a schoolboy, but for a hardened reader of military fiction and non-fiction they are somewhat simplistic and unsatisfying.
The novel is only 358 pages long and the print is balloon sized so you think it would be a breeze to read wouldn't you? Wrong! Gale has a real flatness to his writing that fails to engage the reader. His prose is dull and totally bland. There is just no zing, zip, or excitement in his writing. I actually found it difficult to read because I felt Gale had over simplified his writing style and in the process taken the life out of his English usage. I just felt it slightly insulting as the novel feels more at the reading level of a teenager than of an advanced adults reading abilities. It is funny how such basic writing can be difficult to read and digest. I honestly slogged my way to the end and felt myself forcing myself to continue in the face of wanting to throw the thing aside in despair!!
So I'm afraid in short Iain Gale has written a poor man's Bernard Cornwell. I think the Sharpe's novels are somewhat basic but they are far more readable than this. And that is its major problem. If Gale engaged a better writing style then this wouldn't be a bad read. Its premise isn't new but for a novice on Waterloo it provides a very clear, consise overview of the battle, and is a good stepping stone into more basic non-fictional works. I'm just not sure who Gale is aiming the novel at as it is overly simplistic and hence extremely bland. An adult reader of any real literary ability will find it poorly written as younger readers will more likely be the ones to get much from it.
AVOID, as it is poorly written and far too basic if you enjoy historical fiction. If you want to read great historical fiction then I still say Leon Uris is the master and can't be beaten. Iain Gale should read a few of his works and see how it is done. Four Days in June is too basic, bland and boring in every way. A good idea that fails through being far too limited and superficial in scale and prose. Go and read the Sharpe's novels instead!!