Five boys

When the choice of English-language novels at your local library is limited you often have to take what you can get. So when I recently came across a little gem that had been sitting on the shelves since 2003, I wondered how I could possibly have overlooked it. The book in question is a novel set wartime Britain called Five Boys, written by Mick Jackson and published in 2001. The cover picture of a small group of boys seated on a grassy bank with their backs to the camera made me curious about what they are saying to one another.

Scanning the blurb, the words “happily eccentric” popped out at me, so I was expecting something unconventional, experimental, and possibly a little hard to follow. The novel is definitely original in its style, but it is also also highly readable and well written.  Over the years I have devoured numerous books about evacuee children in wartime Britain and have always liked the melancholy, yet cosy charm of this genre, and this novel did not disappoint.

This story begins with the arrival of a young boy called Bobby on the doorstep of the spinsterly Miss Minter who grudgingly agrees to let him stay. I was immediately reminded of Michelle Magorian’s much loved Goodnight Mr Tom, also about a young boy during the war who is taken in by an elderly recluse, although Five Boys soon takes a different turn.

Each chapter is an independent account or anecdote about the strange escapades of the inhabitants of a village in south Devon. The connecting link is a gang of five mischevious young boys, born within days of each other, who start out by terrorizing Bobby whom they believe to be a German spy.

The interconnected narratives are told with wry humour, but set against a backdrop of heartache as we read about wartime children who are separated from their parents, a shell-shocked deserter hiding out in the woods, and fathers returning from the front who have become strangers to their young sons.

What lightens each tale is its sheer quirkiness. One story is about a retired sea captain who makes ships in bottles all day while spying on a local women’s keep fit-class through his telescope, another tells of a dead pig hidden in a coffin by villagers who stage a fake funeral to trick American GI’s preparing for D-Day. The final part of the book is about the arrival at the village of the enigmatic Bee King, a Pied Piper-like character who leads the boys on an adventure of self-discovery and who ultimately helps the villagers to uncover a dark secret.

This is a marvelous book and I loved it. It is simple and entertaining on the surface, but reveals more complex layers if you care to dig deeper.

The take-away message I gleaned is a hopeful one, that in times of real crisis people tend to band together and help each other out irrespective of their differences.

Scanning the blurb, the words “happily eccentric” popped out at me, so I was expecting something unconventional, experimental, and possibly a little hard to follow. The novel is definitely original in its style, but it is also also highly readable and well written.  Over the years I have devoured numerous books about evacuee children in wartime Britain and have always liked the melancholy, yet cosy charm of this genre, and this novel did not disappoint.

This story begins with the arrival of a young boy called Bobby on the doorstep of the spinsterly Miss Minter who grudgingly agrees to let him stay. I was immediately reminded of Michelle Magorian’s much loved Goodnight Mr Tom, also about a young boy during the war who is taken in by an elderly recluse, although Five Boys soon takes a different turn.

Each chapter is an independent account or anecdote about the strange escapades of the inhabitants of a village in south Devon. The connecting link is a gang of five mischevious young boys, born within days of each other, who start out by terrorizing Bobby whom they believe to be a German spy.

The interconnected narratives are told with wry humour, but set against a backdrop of heartache as we read about wartime children who are separated from their parents, a shell-shocked deserter hiding out in the woods, and fathers returning from the front who have become strangers to their young sons.

What lightens each tale is its sheer quirkiness. One story is about a retired sea captain who makes ships in bottles all day while spying on a local women’s keep fit-class through his telescope, another tells of a dead pig hidden in a coffin by villagers who stage a fake funeral to trick American GI’s preparing for D-Day. The final part of the book is about the arrival at the village of the enigmatic Bee King, a Pied Piper-like character who leads the boys on an adventure of self-discovery and who ultimately helps the villagers to uncover a dark secret.

This is a marvelous book and I loved it. It is simple and entertaining on the surface, but reveals more complex layers if you care to dig deeper.

The take-away message I gleaned is a hopeful one, that in times of real crisis people tend to band together and help each other out irrespective of their differences.

Tipsat av: - den 10 september 2019