The Second World War is over and seventeen year-old Barbary is being sent from her mother's home in France to live with her father in London. The family dynamics of step-siblings, lovers, and second marriages was a bit confusing at first and by page forty I resorted to drawing a family tree. Hang in there though and you will be richly rewarded, I promise you.
'Seeing his daughter Barbary standing before him, small and slight in her travelling coat and crumpled frock, her limp, hatless locks hanging around her pale, immature face, her slate-grey eyes staring darkly up at him beneath black brows, he did not see much change in her from the queer elf of seven years ago. If he had supposed that the small slattern of ten years old would have grown into a neat, comely young creature of seventeen, who wore her clothes well and waved her hair, he now perceived his error; he saw before him the same little tramp...'Sir Gulliver Deniston is a lawyer with traditional values married to his well-connected second wife, Pamela. Rather than ingratiating herself into the fold, Barbary quickly seeks out the bombed out ruins of London's churchyards with her stepbrother, Raoul. As members of the Maquis back in France during their formative years, a life of thievery, surveillance, and deception has become second nature, the ruins of London replacing the caves. The draft dodgers and petty criminals also occupying the ruins around St. Paul's become fellow comrades seeking their share of the spoils from crime. Barbary has inherited a talent for painting from her mother and does earn some money honestly with her painted postcards of London although she raises the price for American tourists.
When Sir Gulliver's brother-in-law, a consulting specialist in nerve ailments, takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of Barbary's past with the Resistance Party she becomes unsettled.
'Things would be told, would be guessed, that must never be told, never be guessed. Things would be dragged up that must lie for ever in the deep, secret pools of the sea, till some tide at last washed them out into the ocean of oblivion, never to be captured more. Until that should happen, Barbary was going back where she belonged, to the waste margins of civilisation that she knew, where other outcasts lurked, and questions were not asked.'A tragic turn of events brings Barbary's family together and just when I thought the novel was winding its way to a conclusion two situations emerge that had me flipping pages full of suspense. I deliberately chose this story to follow after Pied Piper by Nevil Shute with its backdrop of World War II and the German invasion of France. The effect of war on children in these two books could not be further apart; in the case of The World My Wilderness it is heartbreaking although Barbary and Raoul's parenting, or lack of it, is every bit as much to blame.
The £1 coin spent on this book was the best value for money I have ever received and if this era appeals to you then I would highly encourage you to find a copy. The perspective is different from any other that I have experienced.
Rose Macaulay lived through both World Wars and I am really looking forward to reading her biography if I can track one down. Huge thanks to Danielle from A Work in Progress for this 2008 post about some short stories she had read. I ran upstairs and pulled my copy of Wave Me Goodbye from the bookcase and now excitedly look forward to reading Macaulay's semi-biographic short story Miss Anstruther's Letters.
'Cripplegate' by William Menzies Coldstream