Sunday, 28 September 2014

Divided Loyalties by Dennis Hamley

Reviewed by Chris Longmuir

It was only after I’d read several chapters of Divided Loyalties that I realised it was a continuation of Ellen’s People which I recently reviewed for Eclectic Electric.

Ellen’s People: Without Warning, was a book set during the First World War, and it told Ellen’s story from her point of view. This second book, which I understand is part of a trilogy, is set prior to, and during the Second World War. So, a lot of time has passed since the end of the first book.

Divided Loyalties differs in style from Ellen’s People because it is a multi-viewpoint novel. Instead of being Ellen’s story, it is the story of Ellen’s family, and it begins with chapters featuring Ellen’s sons, which was why I hadn’t made the connection with Ellen’s People at an earlier stage.

At the beginning of the story Ellen has been married to her German husband, Matthias Vogler, for nineteen years, and they have three of a family, Walter who is sixteen at the start of the book, Paul who is eleven, and Anna who is eight.

Walter, the elder son, is not a likeable character and he is deeply resentful of his germanic roots which makes him hate his father. Nevertheless, of the three children he is by far the strongest character and I was drawn into his story and became deeply interested in what happened to him. Paul and Anna were more likeable, and their characters were less conflicting, therefore less addictive for the reader. Ellen, was once again, finely drawn, and her problems and emotions are shared with the reader.

There were many divided loyalties in this story. Walter’s hatred of his family and his germanic origins. Ellen who is split between the two of them. Matthias, whose German relatives embrace the Nazi cause, and the emotional conflict this causes within him, because on the one hand he loves his German family, but on the other, he hates Nazism and everything it stands for, and is fiercely loyal to his adopted country. His loyalty, however, does not prevent his arrest as an enemy alien, and his internment, first in the Isle of Man and later in Canada.

As well as the emotional impact of the story, as the story progresses the reader is also taken onto the battlefields to follow Walter’s story as a rear gunner in the RAF, and the story of Helmut, his German cousin, first as a member of the Hitler Youth, then as a tank commander on the Eastern and Western Fronts. There is a sense of fear and disorganization, but also one of disillusionment in these sections.

This was a well written and absorbing novel with characters who became real people with the ability to strike up an emotional relationship with the reader. If this is the second book of a trilogy, I can’t wait to read the third.

Chris Longmuir

You can buy the ebook here