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Now We Shall Be Entirely Free: The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2019

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The island on which Lacroix settles for a while is initially reported as having no trees, then it has a few trees, then it is treeless. A British army ‘incident’ is investigated, and the reader is a party to a slick chase (the pursuit of Lacroix) throughout the British isles and the perpetrators of brutality against prisoners, and women, and the civilian community are to be brought to summary justice.

Why Emily was so forgiving (immediately so), when she heard John Lacroix speak of his appalling lack of leadership and inaction at Los Morales. Only towards the end of the book will he reveal the nature of those memories to a confidante to whom he has become close.

But who is more to blame: the brutalised rank-and-file perpetrators, who have themselves been subject to a lifetime of abuse, or the officer whose intervention, when it comes, is too little, too late? There is a lot of suffering in the novel: that harsh experience, grief, and failure should make us welcome, not turn away from, joy is one of the lessons Lacroix struggles to learn and that Miller, indirectly, offers us in our turn. War, it’s brutality, it’s deprivations and challenges could certainly bring out the best in some men, but inevitably, horrifyingly, it could also bring out the very worst in others.

He has I think succeeded in that but failed in drawing in this reader – as perhaps my choice of opening quote indicates. The antagonist, the 'baddie' however comes across purely as an ugly villain, a vicious man from the gutter with no saving graces. No one can travel incognito - there are few enough people in this chill shadowy world that our flawed hero, John Lacroix, finds it almost impossible to hide as he is pursued by a brutalised youthful killer and his sophisticated Spanish sidekick. So we get two plotlines, the one of a destroyed man running away from the past and the two men on a mission.Gradually you learn that he is an ex-soldier, somehow saved from the retreat ar Corunna in the Napoleonic Wars, and now part deafened, barely alive and full of guilt for an alluded to but unravelled event, he is recovering at his family home in Somerset.

His housekeeper nurses him back from the brink of death, but John is altered by war – in particular, an atrocity that took place in a quiet mountain village while the British army retreated from Napoleon’s forces. I enjoyed every line, every word of this novel set in 1809 about a soldier, John Lacroix, who has become a deserter. Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, which opens in 1809, records the aftermath of Napoleon’s rout of the British in northern Spain. He may, or may not, have committed some atrocity in the war which he has chosen to banish to the far reaches of his mind.John Lacroix, a wounded British officer in his early 30s, is being transported back to the barely inhabited Somerset estate of his deceased father. So he travels to the Hebrides in Northern Scotland, but little does he know that the Army have sent two soldiers to hunt him down and make him accountable for his inaction. Can I tell you again (and possibly again) about the beauty of Miller’s writing or how entertaining this was to read?

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