Thank you very much to Random House UK and Netgalley for my advanced reading copy of the book.
It’s 1994 and the former Yugoslavia is being torn apart. In England, a gang of good-hearted young people are about to set off in a Ford Transit van armed with several sacks of rice and a half-written play. A play which will light a beacon of peace across the Balkans and, very probably, stop the war.
Andrew would love to stop the war. He has one of the most comprehensively developed personal foreign policies of anyone working on a building site in the Greater Manchester area. He feels everyone should have a foreign policy, really. What sort of person doesn’t have a foreign policy? But what he’d like to do – maybe even more than stopping the war – is sleep with Penny, who he is pretty sure might be the love of his life.
But does Penny like him? Or does she love Simon, his rival, an irritatingly authentic Geordie poet? Or Shannon, the fierce, inspiring American leader of the troupe? Who exactly loves who? And what’s the safest way to make it out of a minefield should you accidentally wander into one? And what do you talk to a mercenary about? And is a bad thing really a bad thing if it maybe leads to a good thing?
It could all take a while to work out, as the gang cross Europe and head into the war zone.
This is Jesse Armstrong’s debut novel about a student theatre group’s trip to Bosnia with a play which they hope will bring change to the 90’s war. He is best known as co-writer of Peep Show and The Thick of It.
The story is written through Andrew, the main character and from the start doesn’t quite fit in with the crowd so to speak. Dubbing them as ‘posh’ and he a ‘normal person’ he always tends to land his foot in it. He is awkward, tells white lies and finds himself in more than one fight or flight situation during the book.
His love for Penny is also what makes him tick and spurs him on. Lying to the team in order to land a spot on the bus he tells them he can in fact peak the Serbo-Croat. Their fellow travelers include Penny’s junkie brother Von and Andrew’s rival for Penny’s affections, Simon the “aggressively Geordie” poet.
There is no doubt that he is observant and perceptive and masters the art of expressing how it feels to irrevocably love someone that you potentially can’t have. It’s funny at times with more ‘smiling to yourself than ‘laughing out loud’ funny, with sometimes awkward humour. There is a real grittiness about the writing and an honesty relating to the characters that helps when reading it.
Not a book I would read again in a hurry. I’m sorry to be brutal but I have to be honest and declare that I couldn’t get into this book at all and it took me an awful long time to read. Then again, maybe it’s my lack of education on the war and my knowledge of the same that proves this book isn’t for me and is in fact rather well written but I just cease to see it.