His most famous book is probably Private Angelo, which was filmed in 1949. That one is still in print as are his two charming children’s books, The Pirates in the Deep Green Sea and The Wind on the Moon, which has lovely illustrations by Nicolas Bentley. As reported here, I bought a copy of The Dark of Summer last week and I’ve just finished it.
This is the sort of book which would once have been called ‘a yarn’. It was first published in 1956 and reflects very interestingly certain attitudes of the time; we are not talking cosy old vintage fifties here. The first chapter could just as easily be the last, as it is really the end of a long story. The narrator and his new wife, living on Shetland, discover in the peat a body which is probably 200 years old and may solve a family mystery. Just as the reader expects to be told the old tale, it’s suddenly 1941 and we get a narration of the hero’s war history instead. Chisholm (it’s a while before we learn his name) is a professional soldier working mostly as a staff officer. During the course of the war he has been at Dunkirk, been sent on a secret mission to the Faroes (which has far-reaching consquences), got himself to the desert war hoping to be killed, then served further time in Italy. Quite a varied experience, in the course of which he meets some interesting people, gets wounded several times and reflects broadly on concepts of honour, courage and betrayal. The view of the war is almost uniformly pessimistic; chaos and pointless sacrifice, reminiscent of the disillusionment in Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant Sword of Honour trilogy.
The second world war is hardly over before Chisholm is in Korea and this section is very interesting because that is pretty much a forgotten war. His final posting is to NATO and the book comes full circle back to Shetland. Although the future looks hopeful much of the book is bleak and it comes as a shock at one point to learn that Chisholm is twenty nine, because he seems so much older. All in all a very interesting read, if not entirely successful in keeping the plot together. One gets used to seeing the war in the propaganda terms of the black and white films of the forties and fifties, and such reports as this one from the front are a useful counterbalance.
Something completely different:
from The Wind on the Moon.