Read The Levant Trilogy by Olivia Manning Free Online
Book Title: The Levant Trilogy|
The author of the book: Olivia Manning
ISBN 13: 9780140109955
Edition: Penguin Books
Date of issue: January 1st 1988
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 760 KB
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Reader ratings: 3.6
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As with the earlier The Balkan Trilogy: "Great Fortune", "Spoilt City" and "Friends and Heroes", Harriet and Guy Pringle’s experiences echo those of the author, Olivia Manning and her husband, Reggie Smith. At the end of The Balkan Trilogy Harriet and Guy board the Erebus and leave Athens Harbour as the Germans arrive on that city’s doorstep. This was their last view of the city they had come to love: “The hills of the Peloponnesus, glowing in the sunset light, changed to rose-violet and darkened to madder rose, grew sombre and faded into the twilight. The Parthenon, catching the late light, glimmered for a long time, a spectre on the evening, then disappeared into darkness. That was the last they saw of Athens."( The Balkan Trilogy) Author Olivia Manning and her husband Reggie Smith had travelled from Athens to Egypt on the Erebus under similar circumstances, and Harriet’s experiences are much like those of the author.
Harriet, Guy and the other refugees arrive in Egypt, but now Ms Manning introduces another dimension to their tale. Enter Simon Boulderstone, aged twenty, who will take us to the battlefield. Unlike The Balkan Trilogy which focuses on the Pringles and their experiences in Bucharest and Athens, this trilogy alternates between Harriet and Simon’s stories which at times intersect.
“Simon, waiting at the station, was numb with solitude.” “He had never before seen such a wilderness or known such loneliness.” Young Simon newly arrived in Egypt suddenly finds himself alone (early in Chapter 1, so not a spoiler). In The Balkan Trilogy Harriet had been newly married when she left England for Bucharest, and Simon married his wife a week prior to going to the Front and leaving his new wife behind. He had made some friends on the journey to Egypt, but they had become separated. He didn’t have friends here, and his brother who was a year older was already with his unit in the desert. Simon was a junior officer, but to date his war had just been theoretical. This trilogy sees Simon leave his boyhood behind and become a man. He will fight battles, see the dead of the enemy and of Allies, he will suffer losses and he’ll learn to deal with grief. He will find that: “The need to survive was their chief preoccupation – and they did survive. In spite of the heat of the day, the cold of night, the flies, the mosquitoes, the sand-flies, the stench of death that came on the wind, the sand blowing into the body’s interstices and gritting in everything one ate, the human animal not only survived but flourished.” Simon will also have to think about that marriage made in haste and now almost forgotten (there are some interesting parallels between Simon and Harriet). Simon will come of age actually and metaphorically.
Harriet too is alone. She is an alien in Egypt, an alien in her job and she feels isolated in her marriage. She is in Cairo working at the American Embassy and it is there that she later learns about the attack on Pearl Harbour. Her immediate concern though is the capture of Tobruk by the Germans, and she fears for Guy whose job has taken him to Alexandria. For the moment she is reconciled with the status of her marriage and she tries to be more supportive: “Harriet, who might once have feared that Guy promised more than he could perform, was now confident that what he said he would do, he would do. Walking back to Garden City, he asked her, ‘Was I all right?’ ‘You were splendid.’” She more or less accepts that Guy shares himself and his time with all and sundry but not with her. According to his philosophy she is part of him and therefore there is no need to spend his time with her: ““But you’re part of me - I don’t have to be courteous to you.”” But “She wanted a union of mutual devotion while he saw marriage merely as a frame to hold an indiscriminate medley of relationships that, as often as not, were too capacious to be contained.”This trilogy continues the examination of the Pringle’s marriage. As events unfold, choices and decisions will have to be made.
Once again there is very good characterisation. Various interesting characters were introduced in The Balkan Trilogy; some died and others moved on. Of those who remained, several travelled with Harriet and Guy on the Erebus and are now in Egypt. Amongst others, there is Professor Lord Pinkrose, puffed up to the extreme with his own self-importance. There is also Dobbie Dobson who the Pringles can always count on. Harriet also meets other people, one of the first being Simon Boulderstone whose story is told here. Harriet has a room in the house where the delectable Edwina Little lives. Simon is under the impression that Edwina is his brother Hugo’s “girl”, and he himself is most impressed by the young lady. Edwina, however, has her own agenda: finding a rich husband with a title, and having an impressive wedding. Another arrival in this trilogy is Lady Angela Hooper. She is an interesting, fun-loving character and a good friend. Angela attracts (and repels) various other people and she has her own story in this book. Some characters who initially don’t impress turn out to be kind and generous, and others who are generally accepted as being kind and generous are shown to be extremely selfish. Guy Pringle, I’m looking at you! Guy is well known and loved:
“He was on leave from Damascus.
‘Damascus? Then how did you come to know Guy?’
‘Doesn’t everyone know Guy?’ he gave a laugh. ‘Last time I was here someone told me a story: two men were wrecked on a desert island. Neither knew the other but they both knew Guy Pringle.’”
“Cairo had become the clearing house of Eastern Europe. Kings and princes, heads of state, their followers and hangers-on, free governments with all their officials, everyone who saw himself committed to the allied cause, had come to live here off the charity of the British government. Hotels, restaurants and cafés were loud with the squabbles, rivalries, scandals, exhibitions of importance and hurt feelings that occupied the refugees while they waited for the war to end and the old order to return.” Harriet is as observant as her author, and she notices the behaviour of those British citizens newly arrived in Egypt: “They believed that the British Empire was the greatest force for good the world had ever known. They expected gratitude from the Egyptians and were pained to find themselves barely tolerated.” She converses with Egyptian servants, as well as employees at the American Embassy, and she is interested to know what is happening and what their views are. Harriet highlights prejudices that Olivia Manning perceived. Harriet also likes to visit interesting places and monuments, and through Harriet’s eyes we see these as Olivia Manning herself had. Harriet wants to know what is happening in the real world whereas Guy prefers to concentrate on his work as lecturer, and on providing entertainments.
Ms Manning employs the vernacular of that time and place. The reader will find offensive words such as ’Gyppo’, ‘wogs’, ‘dago’, ‘popsie’ and ’bint’. These terms are not overused, but they are there and they add to the veracity of the story, whether we like them or not. There is a strong sense of time and place in these novels, which is not surprising as much is based on Ms Manning’s personal experiences. Here is a scene at a railway station: “The train was sighted and a groan went through the crowd. The train came at a snail’s pace towards the platform. The groan died out and a tense silence came down on the passengers who, gripping bags and babies, prepared for the battle to come. As the first carriages drew abreast of the platform, hysteria set in.” Many of the characters and events in this trilogy are fictitious, but several of the characters are modelled on people Ms Manning knew. They all have to battle heat, flies and mosquitoes. Harriet visits places that Ms Manning visited, and frequents restaurants, bars and clubs that Ms Manning frequented.
The first part of this trilogy takes place in Egypt, but later places such as Damascus, Baalbek, Galilee and Jerusalem feature. This is at the Sea of Galilee: “Hidden among the lupins were irises of a maroon shade so deep they looked black. Farther on there were other irises, purple and pink, and a buff colour veined with brown. The field ended in a downslope of grass starred like the Damascus Ghuta with red, white and purple anemones, and in the distance there was a lake of pure lapis blue.”
The Levant Trilogy includes social commentary, examines relationships and there is a substantial amount of history.
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Read information about the authorOlivia Manning CBE was a British novelist, poet, writer and reviewer. Her fiction and non-fiction, frequently detailing journeys and personal odysseys, were principally set in England, Ireland, Europe and the Middle East. She often wrote from her personal experience, though her books also demonstrate strengths in imaginative writing. Her books are widely admired for her artistic eye and vivid descriptions of place.
In August 1939 she married R.D. Smith ("Reggie"), a British Council lecturer posted in Bucharest, Romania, and subsequently in Greece, Egypt and Palestine as the Nazis over-ran Eastern Europe. Her experiences formed the basis for her best known work, the six novels making up "The Balkan Trilogy" and "The Levant Trilogy," known collectively as Fortunes of War. As she had feared, real fame only came after her death in 1980, when an adaptation of "Fortunes of War" was televised in 1987.
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