We read a lot of books. We always have, but one of the joys of running a website with an active review section is that we read more, and more widely, now than we have at any time in a reading history that extends back over *cough* decades. We are fortunate in enjoying most of what we read, but having said that, we enjoy some books much more than others. We remember some books much more readily than others, too. Which brings us nicely to "Winston & Me" by Mark Woodburn. It is an outstanding book that we have enjoyed reading as much or more than just about any book that immediately comes to mind. And it's a book that we know we'll remember for quite some time to come.
Why? It's tempting simply to suggest you read it and find out for yourself, in the most direct way possible: but that would rather be ducking our responsibility as reviewers. It's our job to tell you what it's like. But that's rather difficult, because one of the many attractions of "Winston & Me" is its very uniqueness. It's a historical novel set in the First World War, and revolves around the experiences of a lad from Gorgie in Edinburgh who enlists in the army despite being undersize and, at fifteen, significantly underage. Nothing particularly out-of-the-ordinary, you might think, though it has to be said that Jamie Melville's story of his deprived childhood and upbringing is beautifully and convincingly told. Likewise his experiences of the horrors of the Western Front in 1915.
Where this book diverges from the predictable and oft-travelled is the point at which Jamie meets his new battalion commander, Colonel Winston Churchill, who has volunteered to serve at the front having resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty in the aftermath of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. Jamie is brought before the colonel having, technically, deserted his post, but instead of being dragged in front of a firing squad he is appointed the colonel's batman, or orderly. Churchill's unusually enlightened approach to military command is observed at close quarters by Jamie and the two form an unlikely but close bond. Churchill doesn't quite come to replace Jamie's father, a violent drunk who died after falling over in an Edinburgh street some years earlier, but he comes close. And for his part Jamie serves as someone who can listen to Churchill's frustrations about the military hierarchy and the quality of many of the army officers of the time.
In due course each makes his way, by different means, to London. Once there Jamie again finds himself under the wing of Winston Churchill as the MP tries to work his way back into government in the face of open hostility from many of those around him. The story of Jamie's life in Belgium and London until the end of the war is beautifully told, and the characters are vivid and utterly believable. Jamie develops a wisdom beyond his years, and it is sometimes difficult to remember you are seeing the world through the eyes of someone who is still a teenager: though from time to time this is brought home for the reader in ways that simply add to the experience of reading the book. So: memorable, eminently readable, and thoroughly enjoyable. What more could you want from a book?