Monday, 24 February 2014

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

Peter Faber is a soldier on the Eastern Front.  Desperate for some leave he marries Katharina Spinell who he has never met. However, this marriage of convenience means that Peter will get honeymoon leave and in the event of his death, Katharina will receive his pension.

What neither Peter or Katharina had anticipated when they agreed to this marriage of convenience is the strong attraction that they would have for one another.  When Peter returns to the Eastern front to fight it is the thought of Katharina waiting for him in Berlin that helps him to survive the horrors of war.

Back in Berlin, encouraged by her overbearing parents, Katharina is successfully ingratiating her way into the Nazi party regime. However, the repercussions that this will have when Germany is no longer the winning party in war has huge implications for both Katharina and Peter.

I have been on a really good reading run recently and have read some truly excellent books.  This novel is no exception and is an extremely well constructed novel which deals with some very difficult subjects focussing around the Second World War.

Consequently, this is not a comfortable read.  There were parts that I found very difficult to read and I physically cringed at parts of this as it is horribly violent in its descriptions.

However, it is rich in dialogue and whilst I did not particularly warm to any of the characters the dialogue brings them to life in a very realistic way.  The novel is written without sentimentality and presents war and it’s accompanying issues in a bold and realistic manner through the dialogue and thoughts of the characters.

Ms. Magee is a very skilled writer as this novel is saturated in atmosphere within the two settings of the novel.  It is partly set with Katharina in Berlin and partly with Peter as he approaches Stalingrad.  What fascinated me was how attitudes and fortunes altered for these people when the situation moved from expected victory to defeat.  This was realistically and sympathetically written and made for absorbing reading.

I highly recommend this novel.  Yes, it is brutal in it’s honesty about wartime but it is actually easy to read as the narration is very tightly packed and every word conveys a message.  I think it is enormously skilful to be able to take such a difficult subject area and yet craft it in a way that makes reading about it so engaging.

This has much to commend it and is remarkable for a debut novel as it is written with such maturity and sophistication.  I think that Audrey Magee is an author we will be hearing a lot more of in the future.

ISBN:  978 1782391029

Publisher:  Atlantic Books

Price (based on todays price as  £9.09

Total saving so far:  £200.59

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