Little did I think, when I wrote about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society , that I would soon be adding another book about the German Occupation of the Channel Islands to my list of best books of 2008.
War on the Margins by Libby Cone is a novel based on real events on the island of Jersey between 1940 and the time of the liberation of the island in 1945.
'Faction' is a genre of writing that I usually avoid but this book gripped me from the first page to the last. The research, carried out for Libby Cone's Master's thesis, is meticulous and the findings deserve a wide audience, but who reads theses, however well researched and written? Bringing it to the public in the form of a novel was an inspired move.
War on the Margins takes us into the lives of the marginalised people of Jersey during the Occupation: the Jews, the political prisoners and the slave workers. The central characters are the Surrealist artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, who left France to live in Jersey in 1937, under their real names of Lucille Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe. They used their artistic talents, their courage and great sense of humour in working for the Resistance, in particular for undermining the morale of the German troops. They were captured in June 1944 and Libby Cone had access to Lucille's prison notes and diaries to give an authentic picture of events and conditions in the Gloucester Street Prison where they were held.
We know that everyone who lived in the Channel Islands during the years of Occupation suffered greatly from shortage of food, medicines and fuel. Once supplies from France were blocked, even the Germans approached the brink of starvation. However, those on the margins of 'normal' society suffered even more and this is their story. It isn't a totally depressing story, though; there is kindness, courage, humour, friendship and the resilience of the human spirit through unspeakable horrors.
Libby Cone is an exceptionally intelligent writer. She conveys the personality of her characters and the momentum of events through a unique economy of language; instead of long narrative passages, she reproduces letters, songs, poems and Field Commands, immersing the reader in the atmosphere of the time and place.
This is a self-published book, without the backing of a large publishing house. It really deserves to be read. You can find details of how to buy it on the Amazon link above.