About the Book
One rain-swept February night in 1809, an unconscious man is carried into a house in Somerset. He is Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.
Gradually Lacroix recovers his health, but not his peace of mind – he cannot talk about the war or face the memory of what happened in a village on the gruelling retreat to Corunna. After the command comes to return to his regiment, he sets out instead for the Hebrides, with the vague intent of reviving his musical interests and collecting local folksongs.
Lacroix sails north incognito, unaware that he has far worse to fear than being dragged back to the army: a vicious English corporal and a Spanish officer are on his trail, with orders to kill. The haven he finds on a remote island with a family of free-thinkers and the sister he falls for are not safe, at all.
Format: Hardcover (421 pages) Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 23rd August 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2019, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free is the third book from my NetGalley November reading list. You can find out more about the challenge here.
The book has two strands that run in parallel. The first is Lacroix’s long journey north from his house in Somerset via Bristol, the home of his sister Lucy, to the Hebrides. It’s a journey he makes without much thought of a particular destination; it’s more about avoiding being recalled to service in the army and trying to escape the memories that haunt him. Only towards the end of the book will he reveal the nature of those memories to a confidante to whom he has become close. In the course of his journey, Lacroix experiences both the best and worst of humanity, experiencing violence but also the kindness of strangers. Eventually he arrives at a remote island in the Hebrides where he is given shelter by the Frend family, comprising Emily, her sister Jane, and their brother Cornelius. One of the themes running through the book is damage – physical, mental and emotional – so it’s notable that Emily is losing her sight and Cornelius is plagued by dental pain. John himself has been left partially deaf due to the illness he suffered on his return from Spain.
The second storyline involves Corporal Calley who has been given a mission by a mysterious individual to track down and kill Lacroix as part of a cover-up of atrocities committed in the war. Calley is the most relentless of adversaries; he’s cruel, brutal and entirely without mercy, committing some horrific acts along the way. As he closes in on his prey, there is an increasing air of menace, especially since Lacroix is unaware of Calley’s mission.
At the end of the book, although some elements of the story are resolved others, in the manner of a sea fret, are left opaque for the reader to reach their own conclusion about.
Now We Shall Be Entirely Free is the first book I’ve read by Andrew Miller and I can now understand why his writing has been the subject of so much praise. At times, it’s poetic in nature. One passage that especially sticks in my mind is from a scene in which two characters finally come together in an act of intimacy. ‘A mutual falling, the grief of appetite. And in between the touching, the tender manoeuvres, the new knowledge.’
I received a review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. I alternated between reading my digital copy and listening to the audiobook version skilfully narrated by Joe Jameson.
In three words: Lyrical, intense, moving
Try something similar: The Redeemed by Tim Pears
About the Author
Andrew Miller’s first novel, Ingenious Pain, was published by Sceptre in 1997. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour Prize for the best foreign novel published in Italy. It has been followed by Casanova, Oxygen, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award in 2001, The Optimists, One Morning Like A Bird, Pure, which won the Costa Book of the Year Award 2011, The Crossing and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free. Andrew Miller’s novels have been published in translation in twenty countries. Born in Bristol in 1960, he currently lives in Somerset. (Photo/bio: Publisher author page)