Selling your soul for the butter

Island Madness by Tim Binding Picador pounds 15.99

For the tourist today, the underground hospital on the Channel Island of Guernsey makes a handy diversion. Open the curtains of your guest house to find it's raining outside, and for a moment wonder what on earth you can do with the children. And then, you remember: you can go and see the work of the slave labourers! Take a trip into the past! Wonder at the lives spent during the Second World War, digging deep into Guernsey's rock!

Tim Binding has dug deep in this haunting novel about an island under occupation, laying bare the secrets of collaboration. It reveals the Channel Islanders as all too ready to rub shoulders with their German occupiers, and all too human in their efforts to survive.

The tourist trap of today was the most terrible of places during the Nazis' stay on Guernsey. The underground hospital built by prisoners during the Second World War was a place of horror where lives were lost, and people dehumanised. Binding shows how the islanders, struggling on meagre rations, and learning to live with the occupying forces, have little time for the prisoners. Rather than engage their sympathy, the ragged, despondent slave workers are feared as criminals, potential thieves, and killers. Construction of the hospital offers golden opportunities to the islanders: businessmen like Mr van Dielen provide supplies to the project.

Van Dielen and his daughter, Isobel, are typical of the island's middle classes. They fraternise with officers, enjoying the usual distractions of the bourgeois life: cocktail parties, horse-riding, dinners, trips to the theatre, and sex. Isobel, as Mrs Hallivand puts it so memorably, was "just an ordinary girl who unfortunately saw no difference between a German uniform and a Henley blazer".

Elsewhere in Europe, the pounding of the Nazi jackboot echoes through bombed city centres. In Russia, the tide of war appears to be turning, with 145,000 Germans killed. On Guernsey, however, there is little hint of the terrors felt elsewhere.

The insidious corruption of collaboration spreads throughout the island. Binding has written a superb evocation of how it blights the soul in all its degrees. A man in uniform is hard to resist, and the bored women of the island have never had it so good. There are dances, and drives in fast cars; pleasures of the flesh and goods that would otherwise be rationed. Those who began their war by making small talk with Nazi officers at drink parties, end it by sleeping with the enemy. The men, too, are not unaffected. As Albert, willing to serve the Nazis for a living, yet still filled with an implacable hatred for them, sees it, those he has known all his life, are "choking before his very eyes in a sea of greed and suspicion".

When Isobel van Dielen is found murdered the atmosphere is changed for good: the idyll cannot hold. The magic of the picturesque island turns to madness and true strength of character is revealed, often in the most unlikely people.

Binding captures the essence of life under occupation with fine description of character and a taut plot. The strain that makes a law-abiding, conventional mother scream, "I'd sell my soul for a pound of butter", is vividly conveyed here. There are heart-stopping twists and turns in the way in which people behave and react. The woman who is most free with her body, for instance, is not an amoral character but the most moral, for she is also the most free with her kindness.

The deft tugging of our heartstrings continues with Binding's portrayals of Nazi officers. While the majority live up to all our cliched expectations - they are cruel, sinister, loathsome, insane - one individual does not, but instead keeps surprising us to the end. At first unwillingly, then enthusiastically, the reader cheers him on, discovering the person beneath the uniform. This is high-class fiction: tense, compassionate, surprising and moving.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice