Louis de Bernières, A Partisan’s Daughter, Harvill Secker 2008
I thought this was just brilliant. I am quite amazed that some critics saw it as rather lightweight; I found it just right, and very insightful on human fallibilities and the nature of relationships. I see one complaining the Serbian history is tiring; I found it fascinating. The narrative voices are beautifully realised, the construction superb. What’s to complain about?
In The Guardian Joanna Briscoe writes:
Because Chris is narrating retrospectively, with the viewpoint shifting fairly seamlessly between him and Roza, an awareness of later events in Yugoslavia is enhanced by Roza’s descriptions of different factions and nationalities as she grows up. The Russians, she claims, "say we’re all just bandits and we’ve only got loyalty to our relatives, and we make pacts with our enemies just to take advantage of our neighbours". As a writer, de Bernières is truly international in his scope, inhabiting one country after another with convincing detail and authority.
The novel’s charm works by stealth. It reads like a memoir; it offers subtle comment on the art of storytelling; it rarely strikes a false note, and it contains lessons about love and regret and seizing the moment. Like Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, A Partisan’s Daughter is a novel about missed opportunities and wrong paths taken, tracing the way in which one false move can alter the history of a life. "I have never lost the pain in the chest and the ache in my throat that Roza left behind," says Chris.
This is a work whose soul is too quiet to make a big impact, but whose artistic integrity should be applauded. It’s a wise and moving novel, perfectly accomplished. It shows that no life is ordinary. It shines fresh light on the nature of love.
Well, it made an impact on me; all to the good that it isn’t a blockbuster.
See also Sarah Vine in The Times.