Sunday, 13 April 2014

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave
John Boyne
London, Random House, 2013, 247p

I love the way John Boyne writes - it is so poetical and descriptive that you become completely lost in his world. His novels are so emotional, taking you on a journey of love, loss and hope.

Alfie's fifth birthday is overshadowed by the outbreak of the First World War. At the last minute, most of his friends find they cannot come to his party, caught up in their own family concerns. And those who do attend are distracted by the impending stress and fear of war. The next morning, Alfie's father volunteers, convinved it will be over by Christmas. But four years later, he still isn't home and his letters have stopped coming.

Although his mother tells him his father is away on a special secret mission, Alfie is convinced his father is dead. Until one day, shining shoes in Kings Cross station, he accidentally reads the papers of a  doctor and discovers his father is actually in a hospital in Ipswitch. He sets out to bring him home, but finds himself totally unprepared for the impact the war has had on the mind of his father.

John Boyne is the kind of writer who manages to make you completely adore a character before putting them in a situation of drama and heart ache. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is slow paced in the early chapters, setting a scene of wartime poverty and family separation. Alfie is a fundamentally good young boy - perhaps a little idealised in contrast to many teenage protagonists of today - but he is determined to go about his secret mission alone rather than asking his mother or neighbours for help and advise, which innevitably cannot end as well as he hopes. So as the reader, you watch helplessly as Alfie stumbles into territory from which you are convinced will only end in tears.

Today, we have a much better understanding of shell shock than doctors had in the early twentieth century. We can empathise with the distress of battle and the struggle faced by soldiers returning to everyday life. But people continue to suffer from the psychological effects of warfare, and not all families are as lucky as Alfie's.

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