The Strange Year of E.G. Rawlings

The Strange Year of E.G. Rawlings

Jane McCulloch
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
Rawlings, known by his initials E.G. is a war correspondent in his mid 60s who has been seriously injured in an IED explosion while covering Afghanistan. In the attack his girlfriend and photographer was killed. EG is writing his memoirs and has withdrawn to a quiet life on a river barge for a year to do so. He gets a mooring with an old friend, the widow of the former British Ambassador in Kabul Included in her house and grounds were three other females dropping EG into a very female environment. EG is a very charming man and soon has the women looking after him, or more really, watching out for him as EG is a very private individual who is not looking for company.

Soon he is part of the ‘group’ and the issues that come up in such groups and to EG himself are what makes this “The Strange Year”. EG is partially crippled by the IED and in constant pain; the doctors recommended amputation but EG said no but he has problems that require another operation. Also, in his mid-60s he is no longer the fit young man he used to be and has issues with arthritis. This, coupled with the very female environment, makes writing a difficult task for EG. It is obvious that EG has issues from his time as a war correspondent which today would be called PTSD. One of the ladies starts to befriend him and soon EG is telling her his story, which helps him clear his mind and get it down on paper for his publisher. Over the year this friendship becomes more and more intimate, probing further into EG’s life and feelings.

EG is a widower but his married life had been just as strange as the rest of his existence. He married because he got the girl pregnant and her father, a very wealthy man, insisted that they marry. EG was happy to do this but his work has always taken him away to various parts round the world. His wife was very happy to remain at home and the marriage was not a particularly physical one. It transpires that his wife was in a relationship with the woman who ran the local stables|! Anyway, his wife died, leaving EG a very wealthy man. The son, Hugo, who was the reason for the marriage, was estranged from EG and they did not get on at all. Half way through EG’s strange year Hugo and his wife are killed in a car accident leaving EG as guardian for a 10 year old boy, Felix, who is in an obscure public school and very unhappy. EG has little experience of fathering as he was away for the vast majority of his own son’s life. Picking up this very quiet boy from school just before the long summer holidays is where EG’s life starts to change.

There is, however, an aunt in Australia who agrees to take the boy into her family which is agreed to be the best route, but this can’t happen until Christmas. EG therefore has to look after this boy and arrange for his future. The women of the estate of course step in and help but EG finds himself enjoying the task and becoming very close to the boy. The two become very close and EG finds he enjoys the boy’s company and teaches him to fish, buys him a bike – all the things that fathers do. Felix makes friends with the son of the local post office who is of Pakistani origin, which becomes a relevant point as a bit of bullying pops up which is dealt with in a nice middle class way, the parents complain to the head master to ticks off the whole school!

The book is set firmly in the middle classes of southern England, with family money, lots of important contacts, and firm anti Brexit points of view. Having said that the book is very enjoyable and is a gentle read as EG meets the new challenges of his life and sorts them out, with the help of the ladies of the estate. I was keen to keep on reading to find out how EG gets out of each trouble and how the year ends but found the denouement a bit of a disappointment with the abrupt and weak ending to the book, but the final page does say that there is to be a sequel coming out this year. Not sure of the sequel is about EG or the other people in the book but I will look for it.

A good read for a quiet Sunday. 4/5 stars

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