Books: Carry on up the Channel

Island Madness by Tim Binding Picador, pounds 15.99, 360pp; Adam Newey uncovers a bedroom farce when Jerry comes to Guernsey

IT IS late 1943. The German army has suffered a brutal reversal on the Russian front, with unimaginable numbers lying dead in the snows along the Volga. Meanwhile, at the other end of the continent, in occupied Guernsey, Major Lentsch is worried about the moles infesting the lawn of his commandeered clifftop villa. Though he finds Stalingrad playing on his mind, he is more immediately concerned about keeping fellow officers in check - the ambitious head of security, Captain Zepernick, the officious labour chief, Major Ernst - and about the party his girlfriend Isobel is giving to mark his return from leave.

But when Isobel, the daughter of the wealthy Anglo-Dutch engineering contractor responsible for building the island's fortifications, is found dead at the bottom of a bunker shaft, Lentsch sets out, with the aid of the local police chief, to discover whodunit. German soldiers, resentful of Lentsch's liaison with the island's most eligible young flapper? Islanders, outraged at Isobel's horizontal collaboration? Or one of the nameless army of slave labourers who carry out the fortification works under inhuman conditions for Isobel's father?

The solution turns out to be more prosaic. Along the way, however, Tim Binding draws on the relationships between Germans and locals, occupiers and occupied, to elaborate his central theme: the nature of collaboration in war and the moral accommodations we make in order to survive.

Ned Luscombe, the police chief malgre lui, has to implement German orders while obsessed by memories of a fling with Isobel. The bank manager and his daughter run a sex ring with German sentries. The local aristo, Mrs Hallivand, enjoys dinners a deux with the cultivated Lentsch. Zepernick uses his sexual conquests to further his career.

Equally, the willing local gals - "Jerrybags", as they were termed - scheme to "catch" a German officer and thus improve their social standing (and get a bit of sugar off the ration). There is, indeed, an inordinate amount of bonking in this book.

One problem with the historical novel is that it invites reviewers to look for inaccuracies. While Binding has evidently done his research, there are plenty here. For instance, though he properly depicts a Henschel engine pulling wagons along the sea front, he calls it a "Hirschel"; the Germans use the local post and banking systems, where in fact they had their own; and so on.

But this is a novel, not a history, and such solecisms will not offend most readers. Rather worse are the stylistic infelicities. Binding does not have the greatest ear for dialogue, and especially not for the rhythms of the Guernsey idiom. Most of the locals end up sounding like Ealing comedy mockneys, while the German officers, even when talking among themselves, are too often rendered in clipped sub-Colditz Englisch.

Again, this would not matter excessively were it not that the narrative moves mainly - in between the rumpy-pumpy - through interior monologue and reported speech. And it has the related effect that characterisation tends to be implausibly thin. The German officers come across as beer- swilling dullards, icily efficient ideologues or wistful sophisticates: all good stereotypes, but not the stuff of original drama.

Binding's theme is a compelling one, but his treatment of it suffers because these just aren't believable people facing credible dilemmas, prompted by comprehensible motives. It is absurd to expect of a historical novel that it be accurate in every detail, but it must be a viable version of the truth; something that could perhaps have happened. Island Madness is not it.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat