As with the earlier The Balkan Trilogy: "Great Fortune", "Spoilt City" and "Friends and Heroes", Harriet and Guy Pringles experiences echo those of the author, Olivia Manning and her husband, Reggie Smith. At the end of The Balkan Trilogy Harriet and Guy board the Erebus and leave Athens Harbour as the Germans arrive on that citys doorstep. That was the last they saw of Athens."( The Balkan Trilogy) Author Olivia Manning and her husband Reggie Smith had travelled from Athens to Egypt on the Erebus under similar circumstances, and Harriets experiences are much like those of the author. Harriet, Guy and the other refugees arrive in Egypt, but now Ms Manning introduces another dimension to their tale. Unlike The Balkan Trilogy which focuses on the Pringles and their experiences in Bucharest and Athens, this trilogy alternates between Harriet and Simons stories which at times intersect. Young Simon newly arrived in Egypt suddenly finds himself alone (early in Chapter 1, so not a spoiler). In The Balkan Trilogy Harriet had been newly married when she left England for Bucharest, and Simon married his wife a week prior to going to the Front and leaving his new wife behind. This trilogy sees Simon leave his boyhood behind and become a man. Various interesting characters were introduced in The Balkan Trilogy; some died and others moved on. Of those who remained, several travelled with Harriet and Guy on the Erebus and are now in Egypt. Harriet also meets other people, one of the first being Simon Boulderstone whose story is told here. Guy is well known and loved: He was on leave from Damascus. Harriet is as observant as her author, and she notices the behaviour of those British citizens newly arrived in Egypt: They believed that the British Empire was the greatest force for good the world had ever known. Harriet also likes to visit interesting places and monuments, and through Harriets eyes we see these as Olivia Manning herself had. Harriet wants to know what is happening in the real world whereas Guy prefers to concentrate on his work as lecturer, and on providing entertainments.
We've picked up a soldier in this one and he takes us to the war in chapters that alternate with the continuing story of Guy and Harriet Pringle and their revolving cast of characters. He's not a lout, not a bad man, just unaware because he's far too busy explaining Finnegan's Wake to a couple of Egyptian students and otherwise prepping the Levantine soil for a Marxist garden. Manning never shares Harriet's thoughts on this little endearment. An example here, where a British soldier helps Harriet find accommodations in Syria: He led her across the square and into a side street. But how far does Manning want the reader to take that? We're protecting the Suez Canal and the route to India and Clifford's oil company.' This led me to think about a character who never appears in the book: Franklin Roosevelt. Hero-worshipers like to think that Roosevelt and Churchill acted in collusion, wary of Stalin, and that's certainly true to some extent. Lost often, though, is that Roosevelt played Churchill as much as the pair of them tried to play Stalin. Roosevelt did so because he was well aware that Churchill did not want to lose the war, but perhaps not secondarily, did not want to lose the Empire. The teller of the story knows this, yes she does. Yes, I believe the teller of the story knows this.
These novels follow on from Oliva Mannings, The Balkan Trilogy, in which we first met young married couple, Guy and Harriet Pringle. . In the Balkan novels, we followed newlyweds, Guy and Harriet Pringle, as they embarked on married life in Budapest later moving to Greece. There are also new characters, such as the young officer, Simon Boulderstone, who has been separated from his unit, and the beautiful Edwina. Simon Boulderstone is a good new character, whose attempts to find his unit, his struggles with the life of the army, and the sheer confusion of war, open up a new vista to these books, in showing us the men who are fighting, as well as the civilians who are coping with the encroaching war. Many of the characters in earlier books also appear here, including the frivolous Edwina, Dobson, Angela Hooper, Castlebar, Aidan Pratt and the young officer, Simon Boulderstone, who was injured at the end of the last book. This book follows both Harriets journey and her encounters, as she travels from Damascus and eventually to Jerusalem, and Guys continued life in Cairo. Overall, I think I preferred The Balkan Trilogy, to this series, but both are expertly written and well realised accounts of a young couple coping not only with married life in insecure times, but with a war which chases them continually from one precarious existence to another.
By the third book in the trilogy I was quite ready to abandon the whole lot of them although (view spoiler)I was glad that the couple, with all their differences, managed to get back together and find a semblance of contentment.
"In an imperfect world, marriage was a matter of making do with what one had chosen." In this second trilogy of Guy and Harriet Pringle, we learn more of their marriage, their travels from Budapest to Greece to Egypt during WWII, their friends, and the Battle of El Alamein (both of them).
A gentle read unhurriedly exploring the blithe disregard of colonialism, marriage and the chaos of war.
Better than the Balkan Trilogy, Manning writes with searing honesty about Guy and Harriet Pringle -- the thinly fictionalized version of her own marriage.
I'm still not sure if Manning is a great author but I have thoroughly enjoyed taking this wartime journey with her.
Absorbed in his work as a British Council lecturer in literature in wartime Cairo, he has time for everybody except for his wife Harriet, whom he takes for granted while thinking he understands her feelings and needs better than she does herself. I think Harriet Pringle is the greater character: wise and helpful for newly married young soldier Simon Boulderstone, freshly arrived from England; she is the one who counsels Guy to be diplomatic when he is trying to negotiate a job with the odious Gracey; the one who sees Edwina Little for the beautiful, sweet but shallow girl she is; the one who befriends Lady Angela Cooper, not her type at all; the one who accurately reads the feelings and emotions of those around her. A pivotal moment comes when Harriet is guided around Damascus by Halal, an educated Arab who does the legal work for his fathers silk factory. Halal replies: they fear a lady will distract the men from their devotions. Halal stared at her, disconcerted, then smiled, not knowing what else to do: You are an unusual lady, Mrs Pringle. Harriet says in Egypt they give you slippers, but Halal tells her they are more strict here. Simons interactions with Harriet and Guy bookend the trilogy. Only towards the very end does it feels like she was over it, having written the two trilogies for a long period of time. As I was reading I didnt have anyone in particular in mind who would make a good Guy Pringle but Harriet struck me as being like Tara Fitzgerald, small, slight and dark with surprising strength. Not sure I want to watch the adaptation, but I now need to read The Balkan Trilogy, having just found it in a second hand bookshop.
She often wrote from her personal experience, though her books also demonstrate strengths in imaginative writing.