Sadie Jones’s first novel, The Outcast, was always going to be something of a hard act to follow. Winner of the Costa first novel award, shortlisted for the Orange Prize and awarded a sought-after place on Richard and Judy’s summer read list, The Outcast even received the somewhat dubious honour of being photographed on David Cameron’s bookshelves. A year later, Jones’s follow-up novel, Small Wars, sticks to the same winning formula – another haunting and suspenseful tale, delving into the dark heart of 1950s society – but will Small Wars stand up against The Outcast’s runaway success?
After six peaceful years in Germany “without having seen a shot fired in anger” young and dedicated Major Hal Treherne is posted to the British Colony of Cyprus, where his wife Clara and their small twin daughters soon join him. Initially keen to face action and excited by the change of pace, Hal quickly becomes conscious of the complexities and difficulties that characterise this “small war”, which progressively begin to trouble his conscience. Meanwhile, Clara faces her own struggles on the home front, ranging from the uncomfortable discovery of her neighbour’s infidelity to a growing sense of menace she experiences as she is forced to confront the dangers she and her children face in Cyprus’s beautiful landscapes. As emotions unravel and the tension builds, Clara and Hal’s relationship is tested in a highly personal “small war” of their own; yet ultimately this is a love story, a compassionate tribute to what love can endure even in the face of atrocity, violence and tragedy.
Perceptively written, with a keen eye for detail, Small Wars is a skilful evocation of a nostalgic lost world of White Lady cocktails at the Club, stiff upper lips and pent-up emotions. The elegant, cool and understated prose style may sometimes seem a little mannered, but increasingly feels like the perfect reflection of this tightly-strung society, potent with things hidden and unsaid. It is perhaps Jones’s sensitivity to language, as well as her ability to reveal small and telling details about her characters, which really sets Small Wars apart from the run of the mill historical romance. Indeed, there are plenty of unexpected moments to be found here, delicately confounding the reader’s expectations: the final climax, when it comes, is both moving and a genuine surprise.
Any Cop?: A subtle, quietly-written but suspenseful romance, Small Wars proves Sadie Jones to be more than just a one-hit wonder.