In The Levant Trilogy Olivia Manning returns to the story of the young English couple Guy and Harriet Pringle, last seen, at the end of The Balkan Trilogy, departing from Athens ahead of the invading Nazi army. Now, in the spring of 1941, they arrive in Egypt as Rommel’s forces slowly but surely approach Cairo across the Sahara from the west. Will the city fall? In the streets the people contemplate welcoming a new set of occupiers, while European refugees and well-heeled Anglo-Egyptians prepare to pack their bags. And at night, everyone who is anyone flocks to the city’s famed hotels and seedy cabarets, seeking one last dance before the tanks roll in.
Manning describes the Pringles’ ever complicated marriage and their motley group of friends and foes with the same sharp eye that earned The Balkan Trilogy a devoted following. And she also traces the fortunes of a marvelously drawn new character, Simon Boulderstone, a twenty-year-old recruit who must grapple with the boredom, chaos, and fleeting exhilaration of war.
Fantastically tart and readable.
The metaphorical war between the sexes is amplified by the nonmetaphorical war raging all around… . It was Manning’s ability to paint the complex relationship between gender and power with wit and sensitivity in her wartime novels that makes her an important 20th century writer.
—Lauren Elkin, The Daily Beast
Two qualities are special to Fortunes of War—the wideness of its panorama and its author’s temerity. No experience, civilian or military, fazes Manning. Equally at home in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, she manages to convince the reader that the pageantry and misery of the world are as mutual as her view of them is trustworthy.
—Howard Moss, The New York Review of Books
The finest fictional record of the war produced by a British writer.
A tour de force…a picture of the Middle East in wartime that we shall want to look at again and again.
How many Americans who have read Barbara Pym, Beryl Bainbridge, or Iris Murdoch have ever heard of Olivia Manning? Yet she is one of the most gifted English writers of her generation…. Nobody has written better about World War II—the feel of fighting it and its dislocating effects on ordinary, undistinguished lives.
—Eve Auchincloss, The New York Times
Olivia Manning’s greatest achievements are the Balkan and Levant novels. In these she handles her daunting wealth of material with great artistic dexterity and an admirable sense of proportion that at the same time never reduces. Nor does her concern to understand public events impair her analytical comprehension of the private lives of her people…. Olivia Manning wrote as courageously about death and the fear of death—in combat, in accident, through disease, through age—as any novelist in our language this century.
—Paul Binding, New Statesman
But also the unobtrusiveness of this unforgettable book is a function of Olivia Manning’s style. At first one wonders, ‘Why doesn’t she write more?’ for this is a very austere and self-denying manner. But gradually we become aware that she doesn’t need to ‘write,’ to make things up to beguile us, because what she has so powerfully observed is true, and she has set it down without fuss.
—Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe
These books are clearly among the very best fiction about the Second World War. They are written with the English poise and understatement that Jane Austen raised to its highest art form.
—Chris Patten, The Sunday Times