Having pulled this off the shelf for a last-minute Remembrance Day read I was absolutely hooked by Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper.. It is a wonderful bitter-sweet story of a man who is defeated by luck in his attempt to pursue his dreams and who is equally unlucky ill-fated in love with an unexpected twist at the end which rounded off the story beautifully.
I had come across Duff Cooper before in a different context, whilst doing my history degree. Operation Heartbreak was the only novel that he wrote, although he wrote five other books and was more famous for his involvement in government. He had a prominent role in Churchill's Coalition government during the Second World War, and held a variety of posts including Minister of Information. I was required to read his diaries which were particularly entertaining as he started out as a bit of a playboy and then grew into his role in supporting the war effort. His experience I am sure helped to contribute to this book which begins at the end of the First World War and ends in the Second.
The book is about the life of William Maryngton who is absolutely desperate to become a soldier. Coming of age during the First World War he enlists for battle and is excited at the thought of going to the front and proving himself. Unfortunately, his dreams are dashed when the Armistice occurs just before he gets this opportunity. He decides to pursue a career in the army, but finds it difficult being surrounded by men who saw action and have stories to share in the mess. His embitterment continues into the 1930s when the changing nature of warfare destroys his role as a cavalryman - something which he is very good at - and he finds it difficult to adapt. By the time the Second World War comes around, he is old, and he is left behind training officers rather than seeing action on the continent. He is devastated. At the same time, Maryngton is extremely unlucky in love. He proposes marriage to Daisy; it is not exactly a love-match but the pair seem to suit each other and offer Maryngton hope for the future - until she elopes with a married man. He hopes to marry Felicity, the daughter of the woman who brought him up (he was an orphan) but she is reluctant to commit.
However, in a surprising twist at the end (I will not say anymore because that will completely spoil the story) Maryngton DOES get to play his part in the Second World War although not in the way that he anticipated it.
I wasn't expecting the ending at all and it rounded off a book that I had very much enjoyed reading. So, many thanks to Dovegreyreader for mentioning this on her blog and reminding me that I had it. And thanks to Persephone books for republishing this book which I'm sure wouldn't have made it into my consciousness otherwise.
Gold of the Great Steppe at the Fitzwilliam Museum
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