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I’m a woman so it is difficult for me to judge the appeal of this epic wartime love story from the male point of view, but I certainly found the combat flying sequences exciting and the pilot’s emotions heart-stopping. I was there with his exhilaration and his fear. The early part of the novel, as our lonely hero is absorbed into an all-embracing family is wonderful, nostalgic stuff. The love in his life is bitter-sweet and his ‘dark secret’ is a cross hard to bear. All in all a lovely, lovely tale I would recommend to both genders.
Joss Lambert has always been a loner, constrained by a secret from his past, until he finds friendship and solace firstly with Guy Liddell, a friend from school, and then with Guy's family, who welcome him into their farmhouse home. Joss increasingly comes to depend upon the Liddells and treats Alvesdon Farm as the one place where he feels not only appreciated but also truly happy.
The idyll cannot last. With war looming, Joss is forced to confront the past. He escapes through flying, becoming a fighter pilot in the RAF. But with the onset of war, even the Liddells's world is crumbling. As Joss is fighting for his life in the Battle of Britain, so he begins to fall madly in love with Stella - Guy's twin - but with tragic consequences. Leaving England and the Liddells far behind, he continues to fly amid the sand and heat of North Africa, until his hopes and dreams are seemingly shattered for good.
‘With this novel James Holland, an up-and-coming military historian of the second world war, fictionalises facts he has absorbed while wearing his historian's cap - most obviously from First Light by Geoffrey Wellum, a belated Battle of Britain survivor's memoir that was an unexpected bestseller last year, and which Holland's enthusiastic advocacy helped get into print.
Holland's hero, Joss Lambert, is a Wellum-like fighter pilot with more than his share of problems on the ground. It is only when he "slips the surly bonds of earth" that the perplexities and complexities of his personal life slide away; alone in the cockpit he is at one with the sky and his beloved plane - with only the "Hun in the Sun" to worry about.
Life, however, is not quite that simple. Joss carries with him a shameful secret about his own origins that he discovers and shares with us as the plot unfolds. Meanwhile, pre-war life in a dreamy Cambridge's Air Training Squadron, all shaved lawns and Grantchester teas, is beautifully and nostalgically described.
Holland skilfully turns the screw of tension as the last months of peace slip away, and his male characters realise that they will be required to put their lives on the line for their country. Joss and his friends face the prospect with equanimity, even excitement. After all, they are public school chaps with jaws and emotions suitably squared. There is always a danger, when writing about "the Few", of falling into pipe-smoking, spotted-cravat clichés. Holland manages to avoid this - if narrowly - by elaborating on the far from simple offstage lives of his characters - for example, the plight of Joss's mother as a single parent in the 1930s.
When war comes the book roars into life, demonstrating the author's love of and knowledge in the flying sequences. The Burning Blue is traditional fiction, saved from Boys' Own Paper sentimentality not only by the swearing and sex, but also by Holland's total immersion in the period. He has joined the few who can bring history to life.
Publication date: 17/06/2004
|Publication date:||17th June 2004|
|Genres:||eBook Favourites, Historical Fiction,|
|Categories:||Second World War fiction,|
James Holland was born in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and studied history at Durham University. He has worked for several London publishing houses and has also written for a number of national newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of a work of history, Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege, 1940-43, and two previous novels. Married with a son, he lives near Salisbury.More About James Holland