Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn is a gem of a novel, one to keep and re-read. The front cover illustration suggests it is another Great War love story, but it is so much more than that. In fact the warfare occupies only a hundred or so pages. Rather, it is a character study of England before the war, of suffragettes and cricketers, of a different time, when the demands put on love were extreme.
A new king is being crowned and the protestations of votes for women are taking a violent turn. Set against this background in 1911, we meet the key characters at a cricket match. Connie Calloway is a former medical student who now works in a bookshop after her father’s suicide left her family poorer than they expected to be. Will Maitland is a young county cricketer rubbing shoulders with the great ‘Tam’, AE Tamburlain, as popular as WG Grace. A flicker of attraction carries the pair throughout this story as both consider questions of loyalty and belief and where love fits into the mix. When the ageing Tam’s place in the M−Shire team is threatened, Will must consider whether to support his friend or risk losing his captaincy of the team. Connie, at once thrilled and intimidated as her friend Lily is imprisoned in Holloway for a suffragette demonstration, considers the strength of her belief in votes for women and how far she is prepared to go. When she meets an old school friend, she also must make a decision. The decisions they take govern the direction of their lives as times change and the country edges towards war. Will their attraction burgeon into romance and love? Connie is hardly Will’s mother’s idea of the girl he should marry. She is outspoken and independent, perhaps too much so for Will? Connie’s personality is juxtaposed with her older sister Olivia who, Connie fears, is trading her independence for a rich husband.
Quinn creates two characters of their time and beyond it, that are totally believable, with a surrounding cast of characters including the fascinating Tam, artist Denton Brigstock, cousin Louis and friend Lily. Quinn, obviously a cricket fan, writes with a light hand about the sport and this should not be off-putting for any readers who do not like cricket. It is a key part of the plot and offers a view of a gentleman’s world where codes of behavior and manners are assumed, where tradition rules; similar values are on show later in the book when Will, now Captain Maitland, is waiting for the next big push. When he confronts his commanding officer to query a battle plan, he is more like Connie than he would ever realize.
Half of the Human Race is Quinn’s second novel; on finishing it, I wanted to read everything else he has written. I have read Curtain Call, Freya and Our Friends in Berlin, click to read my reviews.
If you like this, try:-
‘My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You’ by Louisa Young
‘Stay Where You Are and Then Leave’ by John Boyne
‘A Long Long Way’ by Sebastian Barry
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HALF OF THE HUMAN RACE by Anthony Quinn #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-33j via @SandraDanby