Never Surrender, by Michael Dobbs, Harper Collins, pounds 17.99. Reviewed by Chris MoncrieffThe bloodshed and the horrors, the valour and the sacrifices that accompanied the miracle of the Dunkirk evacuation have been vividly and painfully re-enacted in this magnificent novel by Michael Dobbs.
Dobbs himself is a politician with experience of government, having been a key figure at the side of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major when they were Prime Ministers. Here he has magnificently interwoven with the Dunkirk history the planning, the squabbles, the despair -all of it tinged with pugnacious optimism -of the War Cabinet led, often erratically, by Winston Churchill.
This is a work of fiction but as Dobbs points out, he has undertaken meticulous and painstaking research to ensure that so far as possible the events which can be checked are accurately recorded.
Churchill's great 'gift' was to exasperate all those who surrounded him in those dark weeks of World War II. There were massive rows, with words like 'treachery' and 'cowardice' being flung around. More than once Churchill himself was denounced as 'mad'.
'It was impossible to deny the faults in the old man,' Dobbs writes. 'He was so mercurial. A dozen daft ideas came with his morning rashers, but hidden in amongst them was occasionally a shaft of pure brilliance.'
Churchill did not seek to endear himself to anyone, and he wisely put his enemies in key positions -'Keep them busy with the war against Hitler; give them not a moment for their war against me...' he reasoned.
Skilfully interspersed with the dramas of Whitehall, Downing Street and Westminster are graphic descriptions of the horrific battlegrounds of Belgium and France.
The story follows the experiences of a non-combatant conscientious objector serving as a nursing orderly who is ultimately forced to kill a comrade agonisingly engulfed in flames and pleading to be shot.
This, like all Dobbs's books so far, possesses that quality which all authors strive for above all else: It is a good read and a story that will hold a reader's fascination from beginning to end. …