Hot Best Seller

A Country Road, A Tree: Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Memorial Prize for Historical Fiction

Availability: Ready to download

Paris, 1939: The pavement rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldier marching along the Champs Elysees. A young writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon, he will put is own life and those of his loved ones in mortal danger by joining the Resistance... Spies, artists, Paris, 1939: The pavement rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldier marching along the Champs Elysees. A young writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon, he will put is own life and those of his loved ones in mortal danger by joining the Resistance... Spies, artists, deprivation, danger and passion: this is a story of life at the edges of human experience, and of how one man came to translate it all into art. Praise for Jo Baker's LONGBOURN: 'Intoxicating; Guardian ''Engrossing' Sunday Times


Compare

Paris, 1939: The pavement rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldier marching along the Champs Elysees. A young writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon, he will put is own life and those of his loved ones in mortal danger by joining the Resistance... Spies, artists, Paris, 1939: The pavement rumbles with the footfall of Nazi soldier marching along the Champs Elysees. A young writer, recently arrived from Ireland to make his mark, smokes one last cigarette with his lover before the city they know is torn apart. Soon, he will put is own life and those of his loved ones in mortal danger by joining the Resistance... Spies, artists, deprivation, danger and passion: this is a story of life at the edges of human experience, and of how one man came to translate it all into art. Praise for Jo Baker's LONGBOURN: 'Intoxicating; Guardian ''Engrossing' Sunday Times

30 review for A Country Road, A Tree: Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Memorial Prize for Historical Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Having enjoyed Jo Baker’s previous work, I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review her latest novel – “A Country Road, A Tree.” This is based upon the life of author Samuel Beckett and centres on his time in wartime Paris and his relationship with his lover, Suzanne. Samuel is at home, in Ireland, when war is declared and the author really does recreate that moment of shock very well. Beckett’s mother fleetingly trying to keep her family together, even as the younger members are Having enjoyed Jo Baker’s previous work, I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review her latest novel – “A Country Road, A Tree.” This is based upon the life of author Samuel Beckett and centres on his time in wartime Paris and his relationship with his lover, Suzanne. Samuel is at home, in Ireland, when war is declared and the author really does recreate that moment of shock very well. Beckett’s mother fleetingly trying to keep her family together, even as the younger members are already packing and making their way to London or, in Beckett’s case, Paris. Although Beckett could have stayed in Ireland, and safety, he stays in occupied Paris and becomes involved with the resistance. This is not, though, a romantic view of the war. This is a war of bravery, but also exhaustion, tension, fear and despair. It is walking one more step when your shoes, and your feet, are falling apart and of receiving a telegram to say a friend has been arrested by the Gestapo and not knowing which way to turn or whether the next knock on the door will be for you… At the heart of the book is the relationship between Samuel and Suzanne and also of Beckett’s admiration for James Joyce. The shadow of Joyce falls over Beckett’s early time in Paris and he is also keen to talk of him with others. This is an interesting portrait of Beckett and of his time during the war. It is very evocative and thought provoking and would be an ideal choice for book groups, with much to discuss. Lastly, I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    I really enjoy historical fiction novels where the main character is a real life author. I just finished recently Sophie and the Sybil which featured George Eliot, and now this one about Samuel Beckett. I didn't really know much about Beckett's history so didn't know that he spent the entire war in France when he could have been safe back in Ireland, or that he was involved in the French resistance. The whole book takes place during the Second World War and mainly involves Beckett and his I really enjoy historical fiction novels where the main character is a real life author. I just finished recently Sophie and the Sybil which featured George Eliot, and now this one about Samuel Beckett. I didn't really know much about Beckett's history so didn't know that he spent the entire war in France when he could have been safe back in Ireland, or that he was involved in the French resistance. The whole book takes place during the Second World War and mainly involves Beckett and his girlfriend Suzanne. I gather that a lot of readers didn't like the author's previous book, which was a take on Pride and Prejudice. I can't comment on that as I haven't read the book, but this book is wonderfully well written. There is a section during which the author describes Beckett's and Suzanne's harrowing journey to get to what was the Free Zone in France, which is just fabulous writing. I was sore and exhausted just from reading it. All in all, a really excellent book. I must now read Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, which I own, so that I can find out more about Beckett, especially what happened to him before and after the war.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I REALLY enjoyed this. This is how I want historical fiction to be written, and the writing style fits me to a tee. I adore the prose style. Describing different writing styles is very difficult. The writing here is not flowery nor elaborate. It catches the atmosphere of a place, emotions and events with a minimum of words. The result is clean and strong, efficient, moving, deep and philosophical all at the same time. I loved the writing from the minute I picked the book up to the very end. I I REALLY enjoyed this. This is how I want historical fiction to be written, and the writing style fits me to a tee. I adore the prose style. Describing different writing styles is very difficult. The writing here is not flowery nor elaborate. It catches the atmosphere of a place, emotions and events with a minimum of words. The result is clean and strong, efficient, moving, deep and philosophical all at the same time. I loved the writing from the minute I picked the book up to the very end. I wrote down sentence after sentence that I loved, but it is dangerous giving you examples because you do not see the lines in their proper context. “Time ticks. The light fades. The air is full of cigarette smoke and body smells….A woman sits with a basket on her knee….The sun slides behind the buildings, melon pink. ” (chapter 11) There is humor too, but it is subtle: “He is growing a mustache. It is good to have a hobby.” (chapter 10) This is a book of historical fiction about a man, Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989). A biography delivers known facts about a person but it is not in the nature of the genre to speculate deeper into thoughts and emotions, i.e. what has gone on in the person’s head. I want to get under the skin of a person. I want to understand what makes that person tick, and so I have nothing against a bit of speculation if that speculation is based on a thorough knowledge of all that has happened in the person’s life. This book does exactly this. The book focuses on the war years, 1939 – 1945 of Beckett’s life. Only six years, and yet it convincingly draws what molded Beckett into the author he came to be. I came to understand what troubled him during these years, and thus what shaped him. We look at his relationship with his family and the woman who came to be his wife, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil. These relationships are not simplified. We see his worries and disappointments, his needs and aspirations. Suzanne’s too. His conflicting emotions felt genuine to me. Beckett was a close friend of James Joyce and worked with him as an assistant. He idolized the man. This was before the war. When Germany invaded France, James Joyce fled to Switzerland, and there he died in 1941. The book looks at how Beckett threw off the hero-worship that had inhibited him and found his own sense of how he could best express himself. You could say Beckett’s idolization of Joyce’s knowledge and abilities necessitated his need to strip his own writing down to the minimum. However, the book analyzes neither Beckett's books nor his writing. It instead focuses upon his personal development during the war and how this shaped who he came to be and thus his writing. How much do you know about what Beckett did during the war? He began work as a courier with the French Resistance. He could not write living at home with his Mom in Ireland. In Paris, he had Suzanne. Their flight from Paris in June 1940 is very well told. What he did to fight German occupation is heroic and remarkable and quite a story. Yet the text does not read only as a fast-moving thriller or war novel. There is too much personal contemplation and development for that. Of course, different readers will latch on to different aspects. I did come to admire him for his war efforts. The French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance. For two years Suzanne and he lived in Rousillon in the Vaucluse. In 1945, he worked with the Irish Red Cross to establish a hospital in the destroyed town Saint-Lô of Normandy. Look on the internet and you will find pictures of him and what he and others achieved. He came to write about the devastation of Saint-Lô. The book is absolutely accurate in its presentation of facts, both historical and personal. Small details are woven in; a reader absorbs information without thinking. The soil in Rousillon is red and the Mistral blows. I am telling you; Baker instead weaves these details into the telling of the story in a much more effective manner! I have tried to read Beckett’s works and have found them beyond my comprehension. With knowledge of what has shaped him, perhaps I might be able to better understand his books. In any case, I have found him to be a terribly fascinating person and am glad I know now what he did during the Second World War. The audiobook is very well narrated by David Rintoul. Excellent some may say. He reads clearly and ratchets up the suspense at times, which I felt was a bit over-done. I tend not to like such; others want exactly this! His use of different intonations for men and women is well done. His German and French and Irish accents were great. The speed was perfect; you can hear every word and you do get emotionally involved. In my view, this book is exceptional; perhaps it is even worthy five stars. I think the reason I hesitate to give it five is that it is on the short side. What we are given is wonderful, but I wanted more. More on his youth, more about the years between 1945 and his death in I989. More about his subsequent marriage to Suzanne. The book does contain impressive writing and accurate historical detail. I do feel I have come to know well the Samuel Beckett of 1945. He felt he was failing and feckless and miserably unable to write. His writing achievements came after the war, but the war shaped him.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    Really enjoyed Jo Bakers interpretation of Becketts experiences in France during WW2.The author feels that these experiences informed his subsequent works.Hmmm.undoubtedly but not exclusively.The exchanges with Joyce are interesting.Plot wise,like Godot,not a whole lot happens but the writing and depth of characterisation are very strong.Personally enjoyed the Dublin chapters.The novel is loaded with literary references to Becketts works.This is fundamentally a love story with an historical Really enjoyed Jo Bakers interpretation of Becketts experiences in France during WW2.The author feels that these experiences informed his subsequent works.Hmmm.undoubtedly but not exclusively.The exchanges with Joyce are interesting.Plot wise,like Godot,not a whole lot happens but the writing and depth of characterisation are very strong.Personally enjoyed the Dublin chapters.The novel is loaded with literary references to Becketts works.This is fundamentally a love story with an historical background.The author is familiar with her subject and the novel is beautifully executed.For me,four and a half stars.Difficult assignment that succeeds.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    I discovered this through an online course run by the University of Edinburgh which discussed the fundamental elements of novels that we as readers often take for granted. It seemed fitting to centre the 'case studies' around the nominees for the university's James Tait Black Prize. Enter A Country Road, A Tree. The problem for me is that the story itself is never contextualised. The novel follows an unnamed writer with no specific insights into what it is he's actually writing - I'm not giving I discovered this through an online course run by the University of Edinburgh which discussed the fundamental elements of novels that we as readers often take for granted. It seemed fitting to centre the 'case studies' around the nominees for the university's James Tait Black Prize. Enter A Country Road, A Tree. The problem for me is that the story itself is never contextualised. The novel follows an unnamed writer with no specific insights into what it is he's actually writing - I'm not giving anything away by saying this (it's mentioned on the blurb of some editions - in fact it will probably be beneficial to prospective readers): said writer is in fact Samuel Beckett. I only knew the identity of this elusive character because of the synopsis given in the course content. Not once is his name bestowed throughout the entire novel. Perhaps it is symbolic of his unknown status as a writer, but as a reader, if I'd had no prior knowledge, I would have been pretty damn confused. Now, I haven't read any Beckett. (Yet.) Please bear in mind that I read this with no background knowledge. However, I expect that if you do have an awareness of Beckett's life and works then you might find this interesting, dare I say enjoyable. But to an outsider, this was tediously dull. The plot felt aimless and anticlimactic. I understand that Jo Baker was somewhat restricted to historical accuracy, but this just meandered. The majority of the novel is dedicated to accounting the exodus from Paris in 1940, and it is executed in possibly the most tiresome and unsurprising way conceivable - it is possible to do it well: the scenario was depicted exquisitely in Suite Française. The characters themselves had no depth and were far too numerous and indistinguishable to be memorable. But perhaps most importantly, I was in no way emotionally invested. Ultimately, what I'm criticising is that A Country Road, A Tree just lacked punch. I didn't find it compelling, illuminating or unique in its perspective. It's one of those books that I persevered with only to see whether it would improve. Disappointing. I couldn't help but feel as though Baker was trying too hard to be profound and instead wrote something more preachy and ambiguous than entertaining.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    Here we are in mid-January and I've already filed this in my 2017-best books shelf. Based on Samuel Beckett's experiences in wartime France, It is beautifully written and the dramatic tension so skillfully maintained that I was compelled to read it right through in a couple of days when I should have been doing other things. I hadn't heard of the author until I read a gr friend's review and thought I'd like to read it. Thank you Barbara!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    A gorgeous book, splendid prose, and one I didn't want to put down. This novel tells the story of the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, trapped in France during World War II. As the novel opens in 1939, James Joyce is still alive and living in Paris. Joyce obstinately refuses to acknowledge the war and acts as blind to it as he is in real life. Beckett worked for Joyce for a time as secretary and translator. Imagine trying to translate Ulysses or Finegan's Wake. Yet the windows of Sweney's Pharmacy A gorgeous book, splendid prose, and one I didn't want to put down. This novel tells the story of the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, trapped in France during World War II. As the novel opens in 1939, James Joyce is still alive and living in Paris. Joyce obstinately refuses to acknowledge the war and acts as blind to it as he is in real life. Beckett worked for Joyce for a time as secretary and translator. Imagine trying to translate Ulysses or Finegan's Wake. Yet the windows of Sweney's Pharmacy in Dublin hosts groups reading Ulysses in French, Italian and even Portuguese. This leads me to believe that Beckett's efforts were appreciated by some [ I had no luck trying to embed photos so am resorting to hyperlinks] https://www.flickr.com/photos/bdegar/... During the years from 1939-1944, Beckett shares his life with Suzanne. Suzanne observes his distractable nature, and his failure to be productive. It is Suzanne who provides an anchor for him after Joyce leaves Paris, someone who requires him to occasionally remember to be responsible to another person. When the Nazis occupy Paris, Beckett fears arrest as he has no papers. Eventually he resolves that problem, and he becomes part of the French Resistance. Working with the Resistance, he recognizes how little worth his life as a writer has for society. Beckett's writing was continuously rejected, and for a time, he hides his inability to produce anything from Suzanne. As Baker describes here : He stares now at the three words he has written.They are ridiculous. Writing is ridiculous. A sentence, any sentence, is absurd. Just the idea of it; jam one word up against another, shoulder-to-shoulder, jaw-to-jaw; hem them in with punctuation so they can't move an inch. And then hand that over to someone else to peer at, and expect something to be communicated, something understood. It's not just pointless. It is ethically suspect. Here is another reference to his self-questioning about writing: And when he surfaces to a cramped hand, a crick in the neck, the sunlight shifted across the floor, a sore blink, he knows that even to have written this little is an excess, it is an overflowing, an excretion. Too many words. There are just too many words. Nobody wants them; nobody needs them. And still they keep on, keep on, keep on coming.. This is a book for those who love literary fiction, gorgeous writing, Paris, Beckett, and even Joyce. An interest in Beckett is in no ways essential, but reading this novel helped me appreciate his writing even more. Baker believes that Beckett's war time experiences transformed his writing into the sparse style we associate with Beckett. The scenes in the book when Beckett is waiting to make contact with other Resistance fighters are very redolent of scenes in Waiting for Godot. I am itching now to watch the film version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXmdT... and can only imagine how stunning the premier in January 1969 at the Abbey Theater with Peter O'Toole, Eamon Kelly and Donal McCann must have been: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/110moment... I probably would have remained unaware of this book if the author, Jo Baker, hadn't read at the 2016 John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh, Northern Ireland in July. When she read from this new novel about Samuel Beckett, I had assumed the topic explained her presence. It wasn't until looking at the Author's Note at the end of the book, I discovered Baker had gotten her MA in Irish Writing at Queen's University Belfast. https://www.flickr.com/photos/bdegar/... Thursday of that week, the reading by Ciaran Carson of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in the School of English at Queens, marked the last public appearance of a writer associated with the School before its official demise. The School of English no longer exists as of the end of July, but has been disassembled with various pieces being merged into other schools at the university. To mark the (sad)occasion, all former students of the School or its summer school were invited to stand with Carson while a uilleann piper from the band Lunasa (Cillian Vallely, who is from Armagh) played a lament (it may have been this tune https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEWFw...) . Having attended a summer school at the Heaney Centre in 2009, I was able to stand with the group. There were few dry eyes in the house.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kailey

    The writing style is far too minimal for my tastes. The author is clearly intelligent and can write well, but I felt I was reading, not for enjoyment, but purely to finish.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    “There’s a wide verge, which rises to become a bank, and at the top of the bank a fence runs; the tree forms part of this fence, like a post that’s taken root and grown. Bleached roots claw down into the earth; above, the trunk is slender, and two slim boughs stretch up to form a Y. A few blunt twigs, a handful of leaves. It is by no means impressive, but it is distinctive. It is the kind of tree of which to make a landmark. Of which one might readily say, You can’t miss it…. “ He said to wait by “There’s a wide verge, which rises to become a bank, and at the top of the bank a fence runs; the tree forms part of this fence, like a post that’s taken root and grown. Bleached roots claw down into the earth; above, the trunk is slender, and two slim boughs stretch up to form a Y. A few blunt twigs, a handful of leaves. It is by no means impressive, but it is distinctive. It is the kind of tree of which to make a landmark. Of which one might readily say, You can’t miss it…. “ He said to wait by the willow tree and that fellow would meet us and bring us along”…. “’Is that you?’ he calls out into the darkness. ‘Hello there! Is that you, Monsieur?’ “The figure stands against the pre-dawn sky. He’s just a boy. His socks are crumpled down and his jacket is too big for him. He glances off along the lane. ‘Come with me.’” Pat Baker never read Samuel Beckett’s work until graduate school. She was a bit puzzled because she felt that the later works didn’t really grow from the earlier ones. Until a professor mentioned that WWII had had a profound effect on Beckett. This is the slightly fictionalized story of that effect and Baker’s interpretation of it. Baker has taken ideas, stories, words, phrases from the later works and set them into wartime experiences to show how they might have come about: the preference to go and live in war-time France rather than stay in Ireland where he could not write; the choice to help his friends in Paris with the Resistance so that he could do “something for someone”; his inability to write, the scribbles in many notebooks; his hero-worship of James Joyce, who thinks that a superb present from himself to Beckett would be a used coat. Baker admits to being so in awe of Beckett that she couldn’t write his name in her manuscript. The words wouldn’t wind around his name. So here he becomes “he.” Baker’s prose is smooth and well-done. The book is a delightful read where, even if you know Beckett’s biography, you eagerly look for instances where an episode or a thrown-away sentence will come out later in a tremendously marvelous piece of writing. When I read the scene at the beginning of this review, I stopped stunned. Waiting for Godot. It really could have happened that way. “You keep on going, don’t you, after all? The horrors build. You keep on doing what you do, out of spite.” Samuel Beckett is my husband’s and my favorite playwright (yes, even above Willy). We even named one of our dogs after him. So I was a bit fearful of reading this book. But I needn’t have worried. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Myers

    He picks up the book. He read the summary. He notices a trend but liked other recent World War II novels so he checks it out anyway. He starts reading. It annoys him. He doesn't like present tense writing. It feels so cliche. This one is particularly bad because every sentence. Is. Choppy. He reads on. No characters matter. Paris is overrun and it somehow seems insignificant. He would have to care more about the plot to notice that one is not developing. James Joyce. The light is so dim he can He picks up the book. He read the summary. He notices a trend but liked other recent World War II novels so he checks it out anyway. He starts reading. It annoys him. He doesn't like present tense writing. It feels so cliche. This one is particularly bad because every sentence. Is. Choppy. He reads on. No characters matter. Paris is overrun and it somehow seems insignificant. He would have to care more about the plot to notice that one is not developing. James Joyce. The light is so dim he can see it all and in the distance a nightingale dies of boredom. He finishes half and finally decides to he would rather pound a nail... a hard nail... a rusty nail into his eye. His blue eye... than continue. He is thankful for libraries. Choppy. James Joyce.

  11. 4 out of 5

    J.S. Dunn

    4.0 A second biopic/historical for the month; this one somewhat less enjoyable but only for the self-conscious and occasionally verbose style. Wartime France seen through the eyes of Samuel Beckett, though he isn't named as such. In fact, this work is notable for not name-dropping ---in contrast to much recent, commercialized HF about 'celebrities' in various eras. Here one is gradually immersed so that Beckett's life unfolds naturally before the reader rather than smacking the reader. His 4.0 A second biopic/historical for the month; this one somewhat less enjoyable but only for the self-conscious and occasionally verbose style. Wartime France seen through the eyes of Samuel Beckett, though he isn't named as such. In fact, this work is notable for not name-dropping ---in contrast to much recent, commercialized HF about 'celebrities' in various eras. Here one is gradually immersed so that Beckett's life unfolds naturally before the reader rather than smacking the reader. His self-doubt and foibles are obsessively analyzed to a degree almost uncomfortable, via nonstop internal critique. Eventually he can no longer ignore the exigencies brought by the great conflict and Nazis roaming Paris with camers. It cannot be said that Beckett gains any great epiphany, but he does survive the War with his lover Suzanne and that is all they had to do to win against the great evil.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    At first I just thought, "Well this isn't like Longbourn at all…", and then I completely devoured this novel. The writing is spectacularly engrossing, thought provoking, and there's a naked quality to it. A realness to the flawed protagonist, an unknown Irish writer, trying to make his mark in the literary world prior to Germany’s occupation in France. A man who is trying to be “of use”, joining the French resistance, placing his life (on which he places no value)- as well as his lover’s life - At first I just thought, "Well this isn't like Longbourn at all…", and then I completely devoured this novel. The writing is spectacularly engrossing, thought provoking, and there's a naked quality to it. A realness to the flawed protagonist, an unknown Irish writer, trying to make his mark in the literary world prior to Germany’s occupation in France. A man who is trying to be “of use”, joining the French resistance, placing his life (on which he places no value)- as well as his lover’s life - on the line, when his group is betrayed and the arrests begin. We follow the couple into hiding as they stay one step ahead of the Geste, constantly on the run, at the cost of their physical health and their mental well-being. This is an excellent snapshot of the human emotional struggle – guilt, passion, regret, anger, sadness, selfishness, selflessness, survival. Real emotions, from a brilliant, if depressed, mind. Loved, Loved, Loved, this, I feel like whatever I read next is going to be a disappointment!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Rather disappointing after Longbourn. Yet another WWII story but with a different slant to it, I kind of guessed half way through, that the hero? of the story was going to turn out to be someone famous, as he never gets a named. I will not name this person as it is not on the blurb, but a knowledge of his work may have given more meaning to this story, unfortunately I didn't so much of it was rather lost on me and I found it too meandering and although the horrors of war were touched upon, it Rather disappointing after Longbourn. Yet another WWII story but with a different slant to it, I kind of guessed half way through, that the hero? of the story was going to turn out to be someone famous, as he never gets a named. I will not name this person as it is not on the blurb, but a knowledge of his work may have given more meaning to this story, unfortunately I didn't so much of it was rather lost on me and I found it too meandering and although the horrors of war were touched upon, it was in a very bland way.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    4.5 stars. A Country Road, A Tree is one of the books shortlisted for the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The book follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist. However, he is easily identified as Samuel Beckett from the references to him as the author of Murphy, his friendship with James Joyce and his childhood home in Ireland, Cooldrinagh. As well as James Joyce and his wife Nora, the book has walk-on parts for other cultural figures of the period such as Marcel Duchamp. 4.5 stars. A Country Road, A Tree is one of the books shortlisted for the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The book follows the experiences of an unnamed protagonist. However, he is easily identified as Samuel Beckett from the references to him as the author of Murphy, his friendship with James Joyce and his childhood home in Ireland, Cooldrinagh. As well as James Joyce and his wife Nora, the book has walk-on parts for other cultural figures of the period such as Marcel Duchamp. For convenience, I’m going to refer to the protagonist as Beckett. The book is divided into three parts: Part One – End, Part Two – Purgatory, and Part Three – Beginning. Now the What Cathy Read Next intertextual radar is always on standby so I wondered if this was an allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy which has three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Perhaps Beckett’s time in Ireland in part one is his version of Hell because of his inability to write, his experiences in occupied France in part two are his version of purgatory, and his new found inspiration for writing that emerges in part three, his version of paradise? As always, there is a danger of over thinking these things and seeking connections where none were intended. Throughout the book, there is a sense of Beckett as an outsider, as being displaced. At times, it seems he even welcomes this feeling – for instance, when he finds himself alone in Paris ahead of the Germans advance. ‘He pulls his jacket collar up and shoves his way out again. The night streams past him, is wet in his face. He leans into it, as if there’s a wind blowing, though the air is perfectly still. He is drunk, of course; he has no papers, his friends are leaving left and right; Paris is deserted; he is no use to anyone at all. He feels, for once, and only briefly, quite content.’ Similarly, when faced with the alternative of returning to Ireland, where he knows he will be unable to write, or staying in Paris, where he knows he will face difficulties as a displaced person, he concludes: ‘There’s nowhere left to be.’ At one stage, Beckett and his partner, Suzanne, attempt to flee Paris and the plight of other refuges they observe from the train is vividly described. I have read similar descriptions in non-fiction accounts of that period. ‘The road is a rubbish dump, a mound of junk and clutter. But then it separates itself into movement, , individuals, men and women trudging burdened like ants; into cars, donkeys, handcarts, prams, horses, suitcases, bicycles, frying pans and mattresses, birds in cages, briefcases. A child lugging a baby. An old woman in a pram, legs dangling, pushed by an old man who squints in the bright June sun.’ Eventually, Beckett finds he is unable to stand by and do nothing and agrees to assist the French Resistance by gathering information on German military strength and deployment. The author convincingly describes the sense of fear that must have been experienced by those involved – the unexpected knock at the door, the sound of vehicles arriving outside – and the uncertainty of knowing who to trust. Riding on the Metro to deliver information to his contact, Beckett’s fear of discovery puts him into an almost delusionary state. ‘There are not too many people in the Metro at this time of day. Which is just as well, since every single one of them is staring at him. Not unreasonably, either: his bag has swollen to the size of a suitcase, and his legs have grown too long for him, and his elbows stick out like coat-hangers. He is a crane-fly carrying a brick. A flamingo in charge of a wardrobe. Who wouldn’t stare?’ The torment – physical and mental – of a writer unable to write is another theme explored in the book. The necessity to write is summed up by a fellow writer he meets (Anna Beamish in the book, but in real life the author Anne O’Meara de Vic Beamish). “If one is not writing, one is not quite oneself, don’t you find?” And he thinks: the sweaty sleepless nights in Ireland, heart racing, battling for breath…The two things are connected: the writing and the panic. He just had not put them together, until now. “It’s like snails make slime”, she’s saying. “One will never get along, much less be comfortable, if one doesn’t write.” Beckett is comes across as a complicated character, in fact infuriating at times. His mother (but this could sum up the thoughts of his partner, Suzanne, as well) comments: ‘Always the hardest path. Always the highest tree. He’d fall, and having fallen, would dust himself off, and climb the tree again. When the tree itself had no need to be climbed at all.’ (Although tree climbing does come in useful at one point!) Like many people, I suspect, my knowledge of Samuel Becket is confined to knowing him as a formidable figure in Irish writing and the author of Waiting For Godot. I certainly did not know that he had spent time in Paris during its occupation by Germany in WW2 or that he had been involved with the French Resistance. So whilst being thoroughly drawn into the story, which is beautifully told and compelling, I wondered if I was a missing a dimension through not knowing more about Beckett. Clearly the author approaches the book as an admirer and someone extremely familiar with Beckett’s work. Having said that, reading this book did make me search out more information about Beckett and having done this my impression of this book became even more favourable. I was able to recall references that I’d missed before. For instance, the relevance of the book’s title. In Waiting for Godot, the characters Estragon and Vladimir are waiting on a country road near a tree, bare of leaves initially. And at one point in A Country Road, A Tree, Beckett and Suzanne wait under a tree with only a few leaves on it on an unlit country road for someone to meet them. A boy arrives (as in Act 1 of Waiting for Godot). There you go; this is a very clever book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is a fictionalized account of Samuel Beckett's wartime experience in France during the period 1939-1945. The fact that he was a member of the Resistance and that he and his companion Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumnesil were forced to flee Paris in a harrowing journey that took them to Rousillon in Provence where they lived out the remaining 3 years of the war are matters of biographical fact. Not everyone knows it, however. It's important because I don't remember the protagonist of Baker's novel This is a fictionalized account of Samuel Beckett's wartime experience in France during the period 1939-1945. The fact that he was a member of the Resistance and that he and his companion Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumnesil were forced to flee Paris in a harrowing journey that took them to Rousillon in Provence where they lived out the remaining 3 years of the war are matters of biographical fact. Not everyone knows it, however. It's important because I don't remember the protagonist of Baker's novel being named. Those familiar with Beckett will recognize him right away; those who've read up on the novel will know it's Beckett. I wondered, though, if the novel would resonate as powerfully with a reader not familiar with Beckett. The characters are rather inconspicuous in the large events of the time. Their personal events are relatively quiet ones. Then, too, so much of the novel takes place in the crowded mind of Beckett himself. I wonder if the protagonist can be significantly engaging if he can't be Beckett. His identity is the fuel powering the novel. Here is Beckett imagined, a character in a novel. We're obliged to look at him in a different way, as someone in a story filled with conflict of some sort or another and with the push/pull of interaction with Suzanne. They're both wonderfully imagined as are the other historical characters like James and Nora Joyce and Ann Beamish. It's possible the novel's only of interest to those eager to read more about Beckett, even if imagined. But it's a delight for that. As I say, there is story and plotline, but nothing much happens even though Beckett is seen in Dublin and in Normandy as well as Paris and all the long route to Rousillon. We read a lot of Beckett thinking. He doesn't seem to be mentally filing away material to be written about later. Still, the whole atmosphere of the novel is Beckettian. The protagonist even has a sucking stone. And he pays attention to trees. A seminal moment is his memory of hiding with a friend high in a tree. This scene repeats itself at various points in the novel and then Baker frames the story as Beckett notices 2 boys sitting in a tree as he arrives in Saint Lo in 1945. Because you know you're reading about Beckett, you're on the lookout for 2 tired figures on a road at night waiting near a tree. You're rewarded near midpoint of the novel when the protagonist and Suzanne wait in just that way. There's no indication it has significance other than to the reader who knows one of those waiting is Beckett who'll later place the characters Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. I thought Baker's writing poetic, whatever that means. What pleased me about it was finding metaphors embedded in sentences describing ordinary occurrences, such as letters of denunciation to the Gestapo being intercepted by the Maquis, which Beckett thinks of as flames which do not catch. Miss Beamish, a character in Rousillon, recognizes the protagonist's need to write. She tells him just as a snail leaves a slime trail, so the writer has to leave a trail of words. The book's full of such lovely ways of seeing. I'm a Beckett fan and came to the novel because I'd read it's about his and Suzanne's time hidden in the country. The title itself carries associations with Waiting for Godot. I believe you can never have too much Beckett. So I was spellbound by it and by Baker's imagining of these people who're so familiar to me. I enjoyed my reading of the novel. In fact, I was moved. I didn't mind that he's not named. He would've wanted it that way, too.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

    I think it would be difficult to find two runaway successes by the same author that were so different. Yet both are wonderful books. A Country Road, A Tree tells the story of an unnamed Irishman and his life in France during WW2. Although unnamed, it is recognised that the subject is Samuel Becket. Jo Baker has chosen to write the entire book in the present tense, and in the 2nd Person point of view. This gives the narrative a great sense of immediacy. In her own words, it is "in the moment". From I think it would be difficult to find two runaway successes by the same author that were so different. Yet both are wonderful books. A Country Road, A Tree tells the story of an unnamed Irishman and his life in France during WW2. Although unnamed, it is recognised that the subject is Samuel Becket. Jo Baker has chosen to write the entire book in the present tense, and in the 2nd Person point of view. This gives the narrative a great sense of immediacy. In her own words, it is "in the moment". From that point alone it is a technical tour-de-force. However, it gives a wonderful and highly readable account of Becket's life and the forces that change him as a person and a writer. You can see where his notorious "sparse" style comes from. Highly recommended. I think that A Country Road, and Longbourne are both destined to become classics of their time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cold War Conversations Podcast

    Vibrant imagining of Samuel Beckett’s life in France during World War 2 Jo Baker has created a vivid and poetic fictional account of Beckett’s life in Paris and on the run from the Gestapo in France during World War 2. The story revolves around Beckett’s relationship with his girlfriend Suzanne and attempts to explain the complexity of the man and how his World War 2 experiences affected his later works. The style takes a little getting used to, however after a slow start the book becomes Vibrant imagining of Samuel Beckett’s life in France during World War 2 Jo Baker has created a vivid and poetic fictional account of Beckett’s life in Paris and on the run from the Gestapo in France during World War 2. The story revolves around Beckett’s relationship with his girlfriend Suzanne and attempts to explain the complexity of the man and how his World War 2 experiences affected his later works. The style takes a little getting used to, however after a slow start the book becomes addictive with its flowing and immensely image laden prose. I’ve never read any Beckett, but I have seen “Waiting for Godot” and you can see clever allusions to this in the book. It’s made me want to investigate Beckett’s works further and look at Jo Baker’s too. I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Psalm

    Solid writing but too aimless to keep my interest. Quit early on.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Penny Margaret

    Couldn't get past the man-boy main character.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Donia

    Dry bare clipped austere writing. The leaves fell. The cat walked. The river flowed. Not my style.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Prior to reading this, my only familiarity with Samuel Beckett was reading Waiting for Godot in a college theater class. Little did I know that as a young man he participated in the French Resistance during WWII. This novel portrays his activities during this time, first in Paris, then in the French countryside. The tension of almost being caught by the Gestapo is a constant presence. There is a scene in which he is hiding which seemed like a scene from the aforementioned play. Beckett’s quiet Prior to reading this, my only familiarity with Samuel Beckett was reading Waiting for Godot in a college theater class. Little did I know that as a young man he participated in the French Resistance during WWII. This novel portrays his activities during this time, first in Paris, then in the French countryside. The tension of almost being caught by the Gestapo is a constant presence. There is a scene in which he is hiding which seemed like a scene from the aforementioned play. Beckett’s quiet determination, his stoicism, and the simplicity of his nature are portrayed here quite eloquently. This is by no means a fast-paced book, but something to be pondered. His relationships with his girlfriend Suzanne, his mentor James Joyce, and those in his inner circle are conveyed very matter-of-factly. It is his actions that define Beckett and his bravery is commendable. I received a complimentary copy of this book via the Amazon Vine program.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This is an elliptical literary novel that explores Samuel Beckett 's life in France during the Second World War and his emergence as one of the great Modernist writers. It's a quiet book in lots of ways with events happening in the background but silences and spaces (as in Beckett 's own works) are important. Beckett isn't mentioned by name, though his companion, and later wife, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil is, as are James and Nora Joyce. His work with the Resistance is also here but again don't This is an elliptical literary novel that explores Samuel Beckett 's life in France during the Second World War and his emergence as one of the great Modernist writers. It's a quiet book in lots of ways with events happening in the background but silences and spaces (as in Beckett 's own works) are important. Beckett isn't mentioned by name, though his companion, and later wife, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil is, as are James and Nora Joyce. His work with the Resistance is also here but again don't expect exciting tales of escape... this is far more interested in moral courage and a quiet kind of humanism. I expect this will be most appreciated by those who already know something of Beckett 's life and works: it's a fitting homage to a great writer but is sadly unlikely to have the popular appeal of Baker 's Longbourn. Thanks to the publisher for an advanced review copy via Netgalley.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    The premise of this book was so promising that I was quite disappointed to find the narrative bored me. The author never made the characters come alive enough to interest me. Beckett and Suzanne were so wooden, so barely sketched out, that they had no hold on my imagination at all. I persevered in finishing it, but only because I find Samuel Beckett an interesting historical figure and have read some of his works. I couldn't stop myself from comparing parts of this supposedly true story with the The premise of this book was so promising that I was quite disappointed to find the narrative bored me. The author never made the characters come alive enough to interest me. Beckett and Suzanne were so wooden, so barely sketched out, that they had no hold on my imagination at all. I persevered in finishing it, but only because I find Samuel Beckett an interesting historical figure and have read some of his works. I couldn't stop myself from comparing parts of this supposedly true story with the fictional tale in Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale. Her description of the long refugee flight out of Paris was so much more vivid than the description of the same trek as depicted in this book. I give the book a scant 3 stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    "This is what the world is liable to do nowadays - collapse in ruins - and people go on behaving as though it were nothing very much at all" Yes, this is a book about Samuel Beckett, but it is much more than that. This is a book about war, about refugees, about how ordinary people struggle, are damaged, eek out ways to survive in the face of horrendous political events foisted upon them. That makes this book very timely. The war in Syria, the rise of the racist Right in Europe and the USA, these "This is what the world is liable to do nowadays - collapse in ruins - and people go on behaving as though it were nothing very much at all" Yes, this is a book about Samuel Beckett, but it is much more than that. This is a book about war, about refugees, about how ordinary people struggle, are damaged, eek out ways to survive in the face of horrendous political events foisted upon them. That makes this book very timely. The war in Syria, the rise of the racist Right in Europe and the USA, these events are not to be turned away from, they are events to be watched and resisted. This book will tell you why.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This book is WWII historical fiction. I enjoyed the writing. There were times I would be saying out loud, "Nice." Some of this was really quite beautiful. But the writing alone wasn't enough to pull me in. The characters seemed distant so I wasn't pulled in like I would have liked. But I liked that this didn't have a glossy ending. It felt like there was a certain symmetry with that. So 3 stars.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Elegant novel about Samuel Beckett's experiences in Paris and France during the Second World War, but not for me. A reminder of why I rarely enjoy literary fiction. 2.5 stars.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tristy

    This is a book of logistics with no feeling. We take a lot of trains, we find places to stay in the midst of terror and war, but we never hear how anyone is actually feeling about it all.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    This book painted a bleak and futile inner landscape, eased only when he took up a pen, a stub of pencil, anything to release the words building like steam in a cooker. The outer landscape was defined by Paris, then rural France, with beginnings in Ireland, his place of birth in which his mother waited. Paris held his attention, his love, his pressure release valve. Ireland drained and depleted him, blocked the word flow, so he left behind his past, lived in Paris. War came and with it This book painted a bleak and futile inner landscape, eased only when he took up a pen, a stub of pencil, anything to release the words building like steam in a cooker. The outer landscape was defined by Paris, then rural France, with beginnings in Ireland, his place of birth in which his mother waited. Paris held his attention, his love, his pressure release valve. Ireland drained and depleted him, blocked the word flow, so he left behind his past, lived in Paris. War came and with it occupation. Extreme deprivation came with life on the run - a bare bed of straw, unending hunger, sleeplessness, rotting teeth. He joined the Resistance, helped the cause, slept little, lived in a blur. And always the need to write hovered, pushed to a back shelf, the need to survive paramount. His mother waited for her son to come home, her son waited for the words to come. The War finally ended. Wartime rules sent him back to Ireland, his mother’s wait over at last. Tooth repair, food, soft bed – none of it mattered because the words were gone. He had to leave. He needed France to write. Post-war a friend found use for him in rural France. A hospital needed building. Supplies needed managing. He could do that. His love waited for him in Paris. The words waited too. A day came when the hospital was finished. He left the countryside. The War was over but it clung to him like a tired overcoat. He and his love were irretrievably changed, uncertain, their paired direction unclear. Paris of old was gone, evaporated, as was their innocence. Life went on. And at last, the waiting words flowed. And who was he? He was Samuel Beckett, a Nobel Prize winner and author of Waiting for Godot.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    I thought this was a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Whether I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't known it was about Samuel Beckett and if I hadn’t already been pretty familiar with his life and work it’s impossible to say. He's actually never named in the book so the reader needs a bit of knowledge to work it out, but certainly I found it a convincing and intriguing portrait of Beckett as man and writer – and what a lot poor old Suzanne, his companion, had to put up with. The I thought this was a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Whether I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn't known it was about Samuel Beckett and if I hadn’t already been pretty familiar with his life and work it’s impossible to say. He's actually never named in the book so the reader needs a bit of knowledge to work it out, but certainly I found it a convincing and intriguing portrait of Beckett as man and writer – and what a lot poor old Suzanne, his companion, had to put up with. The beautifully written novel is a fictionalised account of Beckett’s time in France during the German Occupation in WWII, and his activities in the Resistance. It all felt really convincing and I have no doubt the author did her research and based her imaginative response on what is actually known. It’s a really impressive piece of fiction writing, with never a false step, and I particularly enjoyed the way Beckett’s terse style is reflected in the novel’s narrative style. Excellent.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    This book starts very slowly. The author writes in an unusual style; in Present tense centered around the thoughts of the writer, Beckett; which requires an adjustment from the reader. After a while, I found that I had become accustomed to the rhythm, become totally immersed and viewed the world through the eyes of the man himself. The narrative covers six years in Beckett's life, when he remained in France during the Occupation with his lover, Suzanne. Having read this book, I have gained a This book starts very slowly. The author writes in an unusual style; in Present tense centered around the thoughts of the writer, Beckett; which requires an adjustment from the reader. After a while, I found that I had become accustomed to the rhythm, become totally immersed and viewed the world through the eyes of the man himself. The narrative covers six years in Beckett's life, when he remained in France during the Occupation with his lover, Suzanne. Having read this book, I have gained a better understanding of how his writing style developed. He needed to break away from his worship of James Joyce; to overcome a writer's block in Paris, which saw him scribbling one sentence over and over in a notebook; to view the dislocation and deprivation of War; in order to discover the sparse writing style which culminated in "Waiting for Godot". After the first few pages, I couldn't put this book down. The author captures the fear, hunger and misery of wartime France viewed through Beckett's eyes. Her sparse prose perfectly suits this story of the effects of War on the psyche of a man who would become a great writer. Beautifully written story about an enigmatic man.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.