Friday, May 27, 2011

Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper

Lately, it seems like I've half my books are about World War II.  Not the war itself -- battles and military strategy are not my thing, and I tend to get bored with extended action scenes -- but the homefront during wartime, what you might call the domestic side of the war.  Three of the last Persephones I've read have been about the war at home, and the fourth (The Hopkins Manuscript) was sort of a war allegory, if I'm not mistaken.

Anyhow, I digress.  This is the story of Willie Marynton, a career soldier that never gets go to war and spends his entire life disappointed.  He's just finished his military training and is about to ship out when WWI is declared over, and by the start of WWII, he's too old and spends his career training other soldiers.  He spends his entire life waiting to go off to war.

Well, I can't say that I can relate to poor Willie's desire to go off and fight -- there are some sections in which he is so depressed that he missed out on WWI, which sounds so ghastly from other books -- but I can definitely relate to his sense of disappointment.  I had the bad timing to finish library school just as the economy began to crumble, and I don't think there's a book blogger around who doesn't realize the tenuous state most libraries are in.  I also had the bad fortune to leave an existing library job and move to a city which began a two-year hiring freeze just before I finished my degree.  I could not have chosen a worse time, and it's heartbreaking to me because I've found the ideal job for me.  So I really felt Willie's pain about his career.

Endpapers from the Persephone edition of Operation Heartbreak

This is a short book, and there's not a lot of flowery description -- the sentences are straight to the point, but they really get to the heart of what's happening in the story.  This passage in particular really captured the essence of this book.  Willie's regiment is shipping off to war, though he's been left behind once again:

The demands of security insisted that to the public eye, the regiment should be there one day, carrying on their normal functions and giving no sign of departure, and on the morrow they should have disappeared, leaving no trace behind.  Willie travelled with them to the port of embarkation and actually went on board the ship in which they were sailing.  When he had shaken hands with some of his friends and come over the side for the last time he had a curious and most uncomfortable feeling in his chest, and he found himself foolishly wondering whether people's hearts really do break, whether it might not be more than a mere figure of speech.

Just heartbreaking.  And I won't give anything away, but the ending was so moving I was glad that no one else was in the room when I finished it because I couldn't help crying.  What a great book.


  1. Your synopsis of this alone just about broke my heart so who knows what will happen when I finally read the book itself! And it's by Duff Cooper! His diaries appear in just about every WWII book I own and I have grown terribly fond of him through them.

  2. Captive Reader -- I'd never heard of Duff Cooper before I saw this book in the Persephone catalog. Which books mention him? I have become so fascinated by WWII I need to do more research. I'll definitely look for his diaries.

  3. Thanks for the great recommendation. This is a writer I had never heard of. Your review was wonderful, I will look for this book.

  4. Karen, if you want to know more about the true story that was the basis for Operation Heartbreak you might like Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre. There was also a movie made in the 50s called The man Who Never Was. I agree with you about the book though, restrained & very moving.

  5. Ooh! The Man Who Never Was is fabulous to second Lyn's suggestion!

    Thanks for reviewing this book. This era has been fascinating me for the past couple of years but I tend to stick with female authors. Thanks for giving me the shove I need to give this one a try. And thanks for the heads up about the need for a tissue!

  6. I don't think i knew that your profession was librarian - maybe I did - I'm sorry you've had such rotten luck finding work.

  7. Your last paragraph tells me that this was a well-written book that a reader can connect with on a personal level. That's what I always look for in a book. Thank you for being so honest in your review.

  8. I haven't read anything by him yet so I think I'll start off with this one if I can get it. He was married to Lady Diana Cooper the well-known socialite.
    Re- library work - Much the same thing happened to me because of having to move and the 80s recession and I never did get back into libraries and became a stay at home mum. I hope you have better luck!

  9. Sunday Taylor - thanks, I hope you enjoy it.

    Lyn -- there was a book published about Operation Mincemeat recently, I may look into reading about what really happened.

    Darlene -- I have added The Man Who Never Was to my Netflix queue.

    Verity -- It's just a bad time for libraries everywhere. At least we're in no danger of closing any branches like in some places.

    Todd -- I did really connect with this book personally. I really did relate to it.

    Katrina -- I've never heard about Lady Diana Cooper, I'll have to look her up.

  10. Wow, Karen, this isn't a Persephone that was on my radar screen, but it is now. Thanks for the review. I certainly hope that your dream job is waiting around the corner!

  11. Before I had children I worked in a library for seven years and I loved every minute of it - I was a library assistant though, not a librarian. I envy you your profession - hope the work situation improves.

  12. There really is such a thing as broken-heart-syndrome where a heart attack is perceived due to stress but not really heart damage! (so I am told and who am I to get all technical about it.)

  13. Lady Diana was a famous beauty, also known for her wit, fun, and wonderful three volume account of her life... 'The rainbow comes and goes' etc...
    Hardly anyone was able to resist her beauty and charm, from Chaliapin the great Russian bass, to Labour Foreign secretary Ernest Bevin...Stramgers left her fortunes, and friends showered her with jewels...Duff Cooper, her husband, meanwhile conducted affairs with people like French poet Louise de Vilmorin...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.