The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

‘When the battle’s lost and won…’

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Publication due May 2nd 2013 UK and May 7th 2013 US

The AftermathThe setting is post-WW2 Hamburg, a city destroyed by the Allied forces, where the inhabitants are not only struggling with poverty and homelessness, but are also trying to come to terms with the horrors they have lived through. Colonel Lewis Morgan of the occupying British forces is expecting the arrival of his wife and son and has been allocated a requisitioned house on the banks of the Elbe. But Morgan feels guilty about taking the home from its owner so, despite instructions that the occupiers shouldn’t fraternise with the locals, he invites Herr Lubert and his daughter to stay on and share the house.

The descriptions of life in Hamburg at this time are stark and horrifying, and very convincing. The author contrasts the somewhat pampered lives of the occupiers with the hardship of the locals, many of whom are not permitted to work until they have been cleared of involvement with the Nazis. We are shown the gangs of ‘feral’ children, orphaned and living rough, surviving by begging and stealing. The author, through Lewis, takes a sympathetic view of the defeated Germans and contrasts this with some of the Allied characters who feel that all Germans are culpable for the war and deserve its after-effects. Occasionally I felt he veered a little far in this direction and was in danger of making all the Germans wronged and good with all the Allies rapacious and bad, but it’s a fine line and he managed to walk it most of the time.

Hamburg in ruins (source: www.kingsacademy.com
Hamburg in ruins
(source: www.kingsacademy.com)

Where the book didn’t work so well for me was in the characterisation. It seemed as if the author had certain things he wanted to say, points he wanted to make, and had created his characters only to serve those purposes. Rachael, Lewis’ wife, is still grieving the loss of their eldest son in a bombing raid and at first finds the idea of fraternising with the Germans abhorrent. Her fairly rapid change of view was unconvincing. The same is true of the friendship struck up between Lewis’ son Edmund and the feral children. And Herr Lubert’s daughter, Freda, seemed to be no more than a cipher for disaffected youth. I expected this to be a moving read given the subject matter, but in fact I found it surprisingly unemotional, even cold. The blurb says it is being developed as a feature film by Ridley Scott’s company and I think it may work rather better as a film, with the added emotional depth a good cast might be able to bring to it.

Rhidian Brook
Rhidian Brook

Despite these criticisms, it is a well written and thought-provoking read that looks at the impact of the war from a slightly different viewpoint, and for these reasons is well worth reading.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.
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Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

7 thoughts on “The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

  1. I know what you mean about characters who seem to serve more to make the author’s point than to actually be characters. Still, this one does sound like a stark and engaging picture of life in that time and in that place. Thanks for the thoughtful review.

  2. Hmm. Though you are right that in theory the subject matter might appeal to me I am made very cross when authors use characters for their own narrative ends. It’s a daft thing to say in some ways, because of course fiction is an invention of the writer, and both story and character are this, but the best writing gives you a sense that the characters have escaped from their author’s clutches, and have taken charge – the character having come to possess and control the writer, rather than the other way round. That is alchemy!

    So I don’t think I’ll go for this one!

    • Thinking about it, it may have suffered from the fact that I’d just read And the Mountains Echoed – different aftermath of a different war – where the characters were so complex and so alive that they became real people to me, that I cared about – in fact, still care about!

  3. Having said I won’t go for this one, someone else’s passionate appreciation of it made me finally succumb on Last Harvest. And I am very convinced of the fairness and accuracy of your review. I have some further gripes of my own about some slightly stilted writing and clunky language from time to time, though the ending pulled it finally JUST to 4 star, so it will make MY blog. Nonetheless, your most perspicacious comment re more fit as film than book is I think absolutely the nub of it. When written linky lanky pingy pongy trackback will happen

    • I’ll look out for your review. Sometimes my opinion of a book changes once time passes and I discover if the characters have stayed with me – but that didn’t happen with this one, I’m afraid. However, it has happened with We Need New Names – I gave it 4 1/2 at the time, but would now up that to five on the grounds that Darling and her friends often pop into my mind – in fact, it’s now in the running for my own version of the Booker, with two books from the shortlist still to read…

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