Friday, 6 February 2009

The Balkan Trilogy

Harriet and Guy Pringle are a newly-married young couple living in Rumania in the late 1930's. Guy is an English lecturer at the local university. Left-wing, idealistic and tolerant, he exasperates Harriet who begins to realise she comes quite low on his list of priorities. There is also the added irritation of Sophie, a young Rumanian girl who had hoped to marry Guy and can't abide Harriet.

Based on Manning's own experiences in Rumania this novel contains a lot of political, historical and geographical detail about the events leading up to the second world war and Hitler's advance across Europe, but the story of Harriet and Guy is always foregrounded. Memorable episodes in the trilogy include Guy's university production of Troilus and Cressida, the exploits of the debt-ridden bon viveur Yakimov and the English friends sitting around a table in an outdoor cafe listening to Churchill's 'never surrender' speech on the radio.

At just over 1,030 pages, reading this book is quite an undertaking but I very much enjoyed it. Of course, I now want to read a biography of Olivia Manning.

1 comment:

lyn said...

I loved these books. There's another trilogy that follows on from it, the Levant Trilogy that takes Harriet & Guy to Egypt. There was also a TV series made of the books in the 80s called Fortunes of War starring Emma thompson & Kenneth Branagh. Well worth seeing if you can get hold of it. I listened to the books on audio read by Harriet Walter, a wonderful actress & narrator.