Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Eleven Eleven - Paul Dowswell

Paul Dowswell is an author that isn't too well-known. But this is actually the second book I have read by him, the first being the simply brilliant Auslander (review) focusing on life in Nazi Germany during World War II.
ELEVEN ELEVEN is Dowswell's new offering to the YA historical fiction world centred around the last day of World War I - something that intrigued me enough to pick up this book as I don't think I've ever seen a book on this subject before.
I'd seen this at work and had wondered whether to buy it, never quite sure. So when I saw it in my local library, I was thrilled to have a chance to read it. This isn't an author you see frequently around the blogosphere so I went into this book blind, hoping for another amazing and shocking story like Auslander. I was hardly disappointed.

Synopsis: In the final 24 hours of World War I on the 11th November 1918, a German storm trooper, American airman and British Tommy are all on a battlefield in France fighting for their countries, oblivious that at 11am, fighting will cease. After a series of events, the three young boys find themselves depending on one another for survival as 11am strikes. A friendship forms and soon their place of birth doesn't matter. But who will survive the 11th November and who will live?

Review: This isn't a book I would normally go for. I like books with romance or an element of dystopian so combined with the intrigue about the topic, I was mostly starting this book because of absolutely loving Dowswell's other book, Auslander.

Some historical war fiction books normally focus on at least one of two things: it is set nearly always in World War II or set only in one country from one country's point of view which normally leaves Germany not looking that fantastic. Eleven, Eleven subverts the latter drastically with having protagonists from different countries and doing different jobs to help the war giving the novel a more rounded perspective of the day. There is Will, a British soldier who has been in France for months after being persuaded my his sweetheart's father to go to war (a farce to get him away from his daughter in the hope that Will would get killed). Eddie, an American pilot that has killed four Germans and needs his fifth to arrive home a war hero. And finally Axel, a young German foot soldier on his first day of fighting (and the last day at war). The protagonists neither had a great impact on me or annoy me but I left the story caring about what would happen to them, especially after a final revelation literally on the last line. I just liked that this was a book that was completely different to any other YA historical war fiction that I've had the fortune to read.

So I liked the protagonists, they were down to earth, realistic and more to the point, likeable, I felt for them. The development and pacing of the story however, was a little disappointing. From my recollection of Auslander, the story was constantly moving with event after event which is how you would expect in these type of books. However, in Eleven Eleven, I was not immediately grabbed and wanting desperately to find out what would happen. No, it took a while for me to get into the story and for the story really to start developing. And then when the story really got going, it was a few chapters from the end. The part where the three boys come together is rather short especially as that is essentially a pivotal moment to the narrative. They are together for a couple of chapters, help each other and then separate. As I saw suggested on one review on Goodreads, for me, the book could have been longer with more impact and drama from the moment that Will, Axel and Eddie meet.

I have to award Dowswell however for the writing. Sometimes book can make you feel smile, laugh, be uncomfortable and sad within a few pages and this is one of those said books. It is what I love about good literature where the author can manipulate your feelings within just a chapter. Dowswell makes you feel both hopeful for the characters until suddenly there's this destruction and death and it makes that hope seem completely impossibly unreachable. This mixture was just so heartbreaking to read about that shows the true stark reality of World War I. By the end, despite the pace, I was so intrigued to see who would be alive - would Eddie, Will AND Axel make it? Would their family die? You'll have to read it to find out!

World War I is a time that little of us I think know much about apart from the basic portrayals from dramas and comedies like Blackadder Goes Forth and first person accounts or biographies. It is a topic I think a lot of writers avoid because of the devastation of this war, the politics and the fact that World War II happened a shorter amount of time ago. Dowswell gives a realistic and brutal portrayal of the time aimed directly at young people that really resonates. This is an incredibly short read, but boy, does it pack a huge punch at the end. Brilliant.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 224
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Challenges: Historical Fiction, BBC

Related Books: 
Auslander - Paul Dowswell
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
Chocolate Cake With Hitler - Emma Craigie
Once - Morris Gleitzman

1 comment:

  1. Although I love historical (as you know!), this isn't really a period that I enjoy reading about and I much prefer the Tudor, Georgian or Victorian period. I suppose that means I like stuffy dresses and other stuff from that era that I can't think about now...
    This does sound interesting and your review has really made it sound like a good read. I might pick it up in the future; it's good to sometimes read something a little different.
    Lovely review, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing. :)


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