H.E. (Herbert Ernest) Bates is well known as the author of The Darling Buds of May series of books – of which I have read none. I have, however, read other novels by the same author like Love for Lydia and Fair Stood the Wind for France, both of which I read years ago and loved (I must read them again).
The Triple Echo was among the collection of Penguin Classics I was gifted at Christmas. This edition was published in 1973 and features Glenda Jackson on the cover. She starred with Oliver Reid in the film version of the novella that came out the previous year.
The novella is set during the Second World War. Alice Charlesworth is struggling to run her isolated farm while her husband is a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese.
She discovers Barton, a soldier from a nearby camp, wandering across her land. He is a farmer’s son and hates army life. Slowly the two become lovers and when Barton has leave he stays with Alice… and then doesn’t return to active duty when his leave ends.
Unwanted attention from another couple of soldiers at the barracks lead Barton and Alice to go to extreme measures to hide his presence – including dressing in drag and pretending to be Alice’s sister.
Will the deserter be discovered? And what will happen if he is?
This book was, according to the HE Bates website, more than 20 years in the making. Initially conceived in 1943 during the Second World War, Bates abandoned it and picked it up again in the late 1960s when he apparently removed a character he thought was superfluous and managed to finish it. It was published in 1968.
Bates writes beautifully about the countryside. He grew up in the east Midlands in nearby (to me) Northamptonshire and later relocated to Kent where the Darling Buds of May series was written. He loved the countryside and gardening and drew extensively on his experience of both in his writing.
“The air after a long warm day had exceptional softness. Big white trees of hawthorn lay dotted about the valley like soft woollen puff-balls and from over the crest of the hillside, from the depths of the beech-woods, flowed a continual exquisite breath of great lakes of bluebells. The war seemed a million miles away.”THE TRIPLE ECHO, H.E. BATES
I love this short book. The characters are beautifully drawn and I would love to know more about the ‘superfluous character’ who was removed, because it certainly doesn’t need any more characters.
It is a gorgeous little novella that is reflective, poignant and sad. I really must read some more Bates.