Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Road Ahead (Christabel Bielenberg)

--The blurb--
"Following her wartime memoirs in "The Past is Myself", Christabel Bielenberg continues her story from the end of the war. Germany was devastated by war and its aftermath, while to the author Britain seemed grey and exhausted. She was soon appointed "The Observer"'s special correspondent in Germany and, reunited with her husband - technically an enemy alien - she joined the struggle for reconciliation with, and the rebuilding of, a defeated nation. A near-fatal accident to her husband, and her own illness, persuaded the young couple to turn their backs on England and Germany, and make a new start farming in Ireland. Although life was harsh at first, the beautiful scenery of the Wicklow Mountains provided a haven for the family and for the hosts of young people from all over the world who joined them each summer. Christabel became involved with the Peace Women of Northern Ireland, and learned as much as she could about her adopted country."

--The review--
Sequels to anything are usually quite the minefield. They have high expectations attached, both for the author's reputation and for the book itself. There are certainly many successful sequels, so it's clearly not impossible. But equally, there are just as many that fall by the wayside, and The Road Ahead distinguishes itself from the start given the general absence of memoir sequels.

Anybody expecting the same pace and style as found in The Past Is Myself may be disappointed: the war has come to a close, and so the atmosphere is different from the off (it is still charged, but perhaps with more melancholy, and there is more looking ahead than nostalgia). It is also arguably more complex in political content, which again falls prey to Bielenberg's weakness of being quite vague at times. The memoir can be seen at its strongest, perhaps, at Christabel and Peter's arrival in Ireland. Their farming exploits, from finding a property to delivering lambs, inject the memoir with a bit more vigour and humour, contrasting nicely with its previous languorous pace.

Readers of this novel, then, will perhaps be more interested in Christabel and her family on a personal level (even though we arguably hear less about the children than we do about Christabel and her husband), whereas readers of the prequel will perhaps be more history-centred in their interests. This perhaps shows, then, not that expectations for sequels should not be as high, but rather that expectations for follow-ups should certainly not be the same.

Other work by Christabel Bielenberg
The Past Is Myself (1968)

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