Thursday, January 28, 2010

From The Historical Novel Review

June Hutton,
Cormorant Books – Can$21.00

Underground by June Hutton is a compelling novel about one man’s journey to rediscover and redefine himself after a set of devastating experiences in World War I.

Al Fraser volunteered for war. He finds himself in a trench on the front line of a battle in Somme. Before long he is struck down by an explosion that buries him alive in the mud and muck. He manages to climb out and survives, shell-shocked and riddled with shrapnel. When physically able, he is returned home to British Columbia a lost soul, broken and desperate to overcome the horrors in his mind. Somehow, he must create a new life for himself.

Life is hard and his family poor. He finds work as a painter of ceilings for the homes of the affluent. But luck runs out when is engulfed by the desperation of the Great Depression and is forced to live as a hobo. He finds himself in a bit of trouble with the law and travels to northern Canada where he finds home and love for a while. But something inside of him demands that he fight again in order to fully heal, and Al soon volunteers to fight again in the Spanish Civil War.

The prose is intuitive, discerning, and often gut-wrenching. The story has a very realistic and eerie feel to it because it is based on June Hutton’s own grandfather who actually suffered the protaganist’s fate in the battle at Somme, and to some extent, thereafter. It is a compelling tale of one man’s journey of self-discovery through pain, love, war, and hardship. And for a debut novel, it’s incredibly engrossing.
Sadly few Canadian titles make it down to New Zealand and I suspect the reverse is also true with few NZ titles, especially fiction, ever making their way to Canada.
Here is one that crossed my desk recently but sadly it is in a large pile awaiting my attention so meantime I have picked up a review from The Historical Novel review website. The subject matter will be of interest to many in this part of the world.

1 comment:

Ella West said...

Re Footnote: I was in Edmonton, Canada at the end of 2008 visiting family and was invited to talk at a high school. Luckily I had a bag full of New Zealand teen novels with me as I had been using the holiday to catch up on some reading. I passed the books around, including two of my own stolen from the family's shelves, and the kids loved them. The school then ordered many of them for their library. So yes - they love our books. All we need to do is somehow get them over there.