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Sarah Broadhurst's view...
Michael DobbsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ first novel, House of Cards, launched the career of the villainous Francis Urquhart, one of the most memorable fictional characters of recent years, who was immortalized by Ian Richardson in three award-winning BBC TV series. His books have foretold the downfall of Prime Ministers and the growing turmoil within the Royal Family. His recent novels, featuring Tom Goodfellowe, are Goodfellowe MP, The Buddha of Brewer Street, and Whispers of Betrayal, which with eerie prescience ahead of September 11th told of how a small group of trained and motivated people could hold an entire city to ransom.
For more than two decades Michael Dobbs has been at the right hand of political controversy. He was at Mrs ThatcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s side as she took her first step into Downing Street as Prime Minister, and was a key aide to John Major when he was voted out. His experiences have led him to be described as Ã¢â‚¬ËœWestminsterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s baby-faced hit manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬Ëœa man who, in Latin America, would have been shotÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
His highly acclaimed recent book, WinstonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s War, was a novel about the extraordinary relationship between Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain and the young Soviet spy, Guy Burgess. It was shortlisted for the Channel 4 Political Book of the Year Award and is to be made into a feature film.
He was both Chief of Staff and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party and has a doctorate in defence studies. He has also been Deputy Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and a regular presenter of BBC TVÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬ËœDespatch BoxÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
Never Surrender by Michael Dobbs
This is his second to follow the disorganised and erratic administrator, Winston Churchill (WinstonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s War was the first). It is the story of the build-up to Dunkirk, a well-known tale but the insight into the key players and the way they operate, the power of ChurchillÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oratory, the inspiration it inspired and the verve of a nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s spirit is fascinatingly portrayed. It is more than just a thriller for serious topics are dealt with in a light manner and although you are given all the facts, you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get bogged down. I do believe I now know why Rab Butler never became Prime Minister.
This book concentrates on the period just before Dunkirk. Hitler attacks France, Belgium and Holland and appears to be on the point of conquering Europe.
England is unprepared for a war like this and Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister. He is not always popular and colleagues in the War Ministry plot against him. America refuses to help him and defeat against the German Army seems imminent.
At the beginning of the book Churchill is visited by the ghost of his father who reminds him Ã¢â‚¬Ëœknow your enemiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. Churchill realises that he knows nothing about Hitler as a man, and he calls for German refugee called Ruth Mueller. She has previously worked for the government as a researcher but left after three weeks. Churchill was not good at working with women.
Ruth helps him to understand Hitler and this understanding leads to the evacuation of Dunkirk.
But wars are not won by evacuation and Churchill makes his famous, 'we will fight them on the beaches' speech, winning over the people and the government with words. The epilogue describes how the war was won.
I found parts of this book very interesting, informative and detailed. The descriptions of the events at Calais and Dunkirk were real and harrowing. My grandfather was at Dunkirk but he never spoke of it and Dobbs provides insights into what it was really like on the beaches.
Dobbs doesn't flinch from unpalatable truths either, for example the inefficiency of the Armed Forces in sending the correct and working equipment to the right place and the impossible decisions the men were faced with. But some things ran efficiently, Ruth Mueller was quickly imprisoned in an internment camp as an enemy alien even though she was researching for Churchill and was in contact with him.
Churchill had to search hard to find her when he needed her and she remains unconvinced about the need for internment. He takes no risks however and does not back down.
This is a book for those who enjoy the details of war and politics. It does lack depth of characterisation and their dialogue appears somewhat stilted and unconvincing. This makes it difficult to identify with any characters, as they are rather one-dimensional.
Even Ruth's thoughts and feelings about being a poor refugee and her concern for her son who is probably going to die fighting for Germany seems mechanical.
The devastation of France and the evacuation story though are exciting, convincing and nerve-racking. Churchill's famous speech does indeed show what the power of words can do and although words and evacuation do not win a war one believes that the war will never be lost or surrendered whilst Churchill is Prime Minister.
In spite of his faults and though he is "preposterous, pretentious, deeply flawed Ã¢â‚¬Â¦and drunk" Churchill will stand up to Hitler. This may, Ruth Mueller believes, because the English are insane but the book reveals the kind of greatness Churchill possessed.
About the Author
Publication date7th June 2004
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CategoriesModern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
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