Clouds of Love and War by Rachel Billington
Clouds play an important part in this beautifully written novel set in the early part of the Second World War. They are what conceals, comforts and challenges Eddie, pilot and determined young man who is at the centre of this brilliantly written book of love and war in which Billington looks at the human cost of a war that was fought over the fields of Britain. Clouds are also important to Eva, a solitary young woman who tries to set them down on paper, along with much else in her discoveries of life, love and much more. This mature and well constructed novel carries the reader to the heights of skies which tempt the most earthbound of characters up into the planes which are almost characters in their own right. She is interested in the colours and forms, falling into the distraction from a family life of separation. Older people sigh and remember another war and other losses, as the countryside and a particular paradise like house is shown in comparison with other places which show the evidence of bombs.
This is an astonishingly engaging book which balances so well on the edge of lives observed with a sensitivity which shows more than research; this book shows an acute understanding of the contradictions which most people felt a lot of the time in this uniquely inclusive conflict. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book of love and war.
The book opens with a visit by Fred to his son’s college in Oxford. A veteran of the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War, he knows that Eddie’s obsession with learning to fly in the skies he keeps gazing up at is going to mean that he will learn of battle in the near future, even if it is only March 1939. “They’re training you to be a killer” he says, but this a man who has searched for a philosophy of life in the wake of a War he needs to make sense of in some way. Eddie, however, is like an addict, such is his determination to move around in a sky which seems so much his element. Eva is a vision he encounters at a lunch party, who dominates his thoughts in a new way. Eva is also a creature of flesh and blood who is also isolated as an only child in a large house with an older distracted father can be, and she finds her expression in drawing and painting, capturing something of what and who she sees around her. Drawn together in brief moments, their contradictions and challenges run alongside a world of targets and people, hatred and love, and discovering something of a special sort of togetherness.
This book is a superb testament to the challenges facing very young pilots in the Battle of Britain and beyond, dealing with difficult odds while discovering life and love. Eddie comes vividly to life in a book which captures the contradictions of a life of the freedom of the skies with the continual need to be aware of danger. Eva is also a convincing character as she considers the realities of love and loss which are not always as obvious as they seem. The other characters such as Sylvia add more than depth; they reflect the nature of faith and understanding not possessed by some of the other characters. This is a fully realised picture of a time, eighty years ago, when there was little certainly and many challenges. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in these times and the people who lived through them.
This historical novel is about a fascinating period at a time only just in living memory. It is a strong tale of the actual men who fought as the few, and the delicate situation which they lived, almost on the edge of defeat. I seem to be encountering a lot of books about the Second World War at the moment – is it the recent V.E. celebration I wonder?