Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Anti-Climax: A Story Of 1950's Publishing ...

Since the beginning of the year I have turned into a reading fiend, my face buried in books as if there was shortly to be a moratorium, a ban on printed matter with severe consequences for those found in possession. I just can't get enough. Then again, it depends what sort of book we're talking about. I am a fan of true-life, events in history or autobiographies. However, I tend to shy away from biographies as I prefer those written in the first person with less chance of artistic license.

As I look over at my bookshelves, this year alone, I have read the autobiographies of Douglas Bader (WW2 fighter pilot), David Attenborough (Mr Wildlife-on-TV) and Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's longest-serving executioner. Varied topics, as I think you will agree. On the reserve bench is a book about Nancy Wake, the Australian Secret Agent and a book about the scientific going's on of the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) during WW2. One book always leads to another. In the same vein, I have also read Martin Middlebrook's fantastic book about the first day of the 'Battle of The Somme' and another about 11 individuals who did their best to f**k up the Jerries and their plans for world domination between '39 and '45 - another book on SOE.

At present, I am in the middle of Pat Reid's account of his time at Colditz Castle, a guest of the Third Reich. He arrived at the castle in November 1940 and escaped a few years later (I'm not there yet) but didn't return to England until after the war. In 1955, Guy Hamilton made 'Colditz', a film with John Mills playing the part of Reid. The book is a superb account of how British Officers and men, using nothing but ingenuity and guile, managed to cause mayhem and escape from the notorious Coldtiz castle. It was from Reid's first prison camp (Laufen) that he made his initial break-out, hence his transfer to Colditz. The castle was seen as a prison for 'naughty boys' who wouldn't stop their escape attempts from other camps. It was during the early part of the book that I felt let down.

If I were narrating such a collection of yarns, I wouldn't want to give the story away too early but would prefer to keep the suspense up and running. However, chapter 2 is entitled 'The First Bid For Freedom' and follows the successful breakout from Laufen. Just as the story reaches a climax and the pulse quickens, you turn the page and the following chapter title brings you firmly down to earth: 'The Price Of Failure'. I would rather that the author relates the story in an uninterrupted flow than the heading gives away 'what happened next'. You might say, "but he was bound to escape, hence being sent to Colditz" and you'd be right, but let the story unfold in the text.

One the whole, it's a great book, full to the brim of derring-do, Goon baiting, dastardly plans and schoolboy adventure. It's only a shame that Hodder and Stoughton, who published the book in 1952, couldn't see into the future and let the drama motor along at it's own pace.

Stu

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