Rosalind Minett’s novel of WWII-era England follows a young boy as he faces a bullying cousin and tries to come to terms with a world at war.
Innocent and kind, Billy Wilson lives a pleasant life in London with his fussy mother, barrister father, and a new baby sister. His is a world untouched by war and drama, until rumors of Hitler’s army begin to float around town and whispers carry the dangers of a bleak future for England. In the midst of it all, Billy’s own war comes upon him in the shape of his devious cousin, Kenneth. Frail and handsome, Kenneth seems to be the joy of every grown-up he meets, while Billy – try as he might – always seems to fall short of pleasing. With their family, Kenneth is all grace and charm, but behind closed doors Billy soon recognizes Kenneth for what he is: a bully and a lair. As the onset of World War II turns the lives of all Englanders upside down, Billy is swept up in a hurricane that mixes Kenneth’s psychological attacks with the threat of air raids and desperate evacuations. Through it all, Billy’s imagination keeps him grounded as he dreams of owning a Cossack sabre like that of kindly Mr. Durbins, a weapon that would, he imagines, keep both Hitler’s dangerous war and Kenneth’s horrid bullying at bay.
Intrusion, the first book in Rosalind Minett’s historical trilogy, is an intensely readable novel that balances the poignancy of youth with the ageless struggle for acceptance in a world governed by brutes. Minett reimagines a London on the cusp of war with imagery that leaps from the pages, particularly as seen through the eyes of remarkable young Billy. The author’s dedicated research and inherent knack for storytelling grab the reader’s attention from the first moment and maintains its cinematic hold until the last page. The grown-up anxiety of an impending war mixes with a child’s worry of being evacuated to a strange house in the country; the sightless drama of living through air raids and the quiet terror evoked by the carrying of gas masks all speak to the raw experience of England in the late-1930s as wireless radios announce news from abroad and warn of the dangers making their way to home. With sharp attention to detail and a deep sense of emotional complexity, Minett wraps the world of her novel around the reader with skillful eloquence.
While England is poised precariously on the cusp of war, what comes most startlingly to life in Intrusion is the protagonist, Billy: his physical experience in the story as well as his heart-warming imagination, which keeps him hopeful in the face of harsh realities. Billy is bullied at the hands of both his cousin Kenneth and his imposing Uncle Frank, a topic that Minett handles with much grace and gentleness. Almost always seen as an imposition or nuisance, Billy’s only escape from being both mistreated and misunderstood is his daydream of being a great warrior with the power to vanquish anyone – be it Hitler, or Kenneth, or mean Uncle Frank – to the ends of the earth. Every character in the novel comes to life under Minett’s insightful prose, but Billy takes a special place in the reader’s heart as he endeavors to make sense of the terrible things that have begun happening to him. He is at turns taunted by his cousin with lies and fearsome truths – having, then, to decipher which is which – and berated by his family for the stammer that undoubtedly arises as the result of his constant worry. His experience is put to the page through a touchingly honest narrative that captures the innocence of youth and draws from the reader an even deeper affection for the charming young hero. With a true mastering of the era and her characters, Minett sets readers up for a captivating series with Intrusion.
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