Book Review: Dancing with the Enemy by Diane Armstrong

About the Book:

From the bestselling author of The Collaborator comes a compelling story of betrayal, collusion, revenge, and redemption set in German-occupied Jersey during World War II.

June 1940. ‘It was a perfect June evening that began with hope and ended in despair.’ So begins the journal of Hugh Jackson, a Jersey doctor, whose idyllic world is shattered when Britain abandons the Channel Islands which are invaded by the Germans. Forced to choose between conflicting loyalties, he sends his pregnant wife to England, believing their separation will be brief. It’s a fateful decision that will affect every aspect of his life.

May 1942. Young Tom Gaskell fumes whenever he sees the hated swastika flying from Fort Regent. Humiliated by Jersey’s surrender and ashamed of his mother’s fraternisation with the occupiers, Tom forms an audacious plan, not suspecting that it will result in guilt and tragedy.

April 2019. Sydney doctor Xanthe Maxwell, traumatised by the suicide of her colleague and burnt out by the relentless pressure of her hospital work, travels to St Helier so she can figure out what to do with her life. But when she finds Hugh Jackson’s World War II journal, she is plunged into a violent world of oppression and collusion, but also of passion and resistance. As she reads, she is mystified by her growing sense of connection to the past. Her deepening relationship with academic Daniel Miller helps her understand Jersey’s wartime past and determine her own future.

By the time this novel reaches its moving climax, the connection between Tom, Xanthe and Hugh Jackson has been revealed in a way none of them could possibly have imagined.

Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia – HQ Fiction AU

Released 4th May 2022

My Thoughts:

Historical fiction set across the years of World War II has almost become a sub-genre in recent years. I’ve read a lot of it but, over the last two years, I’ve slowed down on my consumption and I’m at the point now where I’ll only read a WWII novel if it has something new to say about the history. I have no interest in revisiting the same stories over and over and I have a particular dislike of war being romanticised, so I do select my titles with care. I had come across glowing reviews of Diane Armstrong’s previous novel, The Collaborator, so I felt compelled to read this latest release, Dancing with the Enemy. I’m so glad I did. It was brilliant. A solid five stars from me, and for a novel that is near on five hundred pages long, I sped through it in only three days, no mean feat with the hours I’ve been working of late.

‘…war brings out the best and the worst in us, and it’s a pity that some people allow the worst to triumph.’

I’ve only read two novels about the occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII, one set in Guernsey (you know which one!) and one set in Jersey, both exceptionally good. So, for me, this was still new history, an aspect of WWII that I wanted to know more about. I’m so impressed with this novel. It shines in all areas: writing, character, story, historical scope, pacing, and that extra something that equates to ‘all the feels’.

‘…wondered if he was an evil man with a spark of conscience, or a good person who had made a pact with the devil in order to survive.’

The story unwinds from three perspectives: Dr. Hugh Jackson, whose perspective is conveyed via a war journal; Tom Gaskell, a young teenager caught between anger at his mother’s collaboration with the Germans and the ease with which they were able to occupy his homeland, both factors converging to lead him onto a pathway of resistance; and Xanthe, a burnt out young Australian doctor who is at a crossroads within her own life and travels to Jersey for an extended holiday, which ends up with her deep diving into Jersey’s wartime history. Each perspective offered a compelling and interlinked narrative, and I enjoyed each character equally. I particularly liked how they were linked, which becomes apparent further into the novel with an interesting reveal.

‘What I can’t understand, is how morons these days can deny the Holocaust when the Germans themselves, even the Commandant of Auschwitz, left such detailed records of their crimes.’

Dancing with the Enemy is a novel that is vast in scope and tells its history with empathy and intelligence. I really enjoyed it and admire this author immensely. I’ll definitely be reading more from her in the future. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Dancing with the Enemy by Diane Armstrong

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