The novel is set just after the end of World War Two, and the author captures well that sense of desolation of rationing, bomb-sites and world-weariness. Bobby Harris was burnt and disfigured when his RAF aircraft was shot down in 1940. Healed physically but not mentally, he hides himself away in his family home in Thorp after the death of his grandfather and tries to come to terms with his past. Hugh Morgan meets and falls in love with Nina, who was once Bobby’s lover but who can’t bear to see his once-beautiful face so disfigured.
This is the third book in the trilogy that opens with The Boy I Love, so for that reason I wouldn’t recommend reading it unless you’ve read the previous two. It relies heavily on what has happened before, and I wasn’t sure whether the characters I read about were established or whether I was meeting them for the first time. Similarly I wasn’t sure whether the many flashbacks of which the novel is composed were new to readers or not. Not much actually “happens”’. People fall in love, argue, and misunderstand each other’s motives, and their relationships (heterosexual, homosexual, and familial) are so complicated I was soon lost. Old jealousies, hatreds and resentments surface. This is hardly the author’s fault if this is not a stand-alone novel, but I began to feel that its structure was unnecessarily complex. The all-important flashbacks that all the characters had took us back to the First World War, the Second and all times in between seemingly at random. And it felt at times that Paper Moon was no more than a wrapping-up exercise. Towards the end it resembled a Births, Marriages and Deaths column.
However, the writing is intelligent, and the emotions heartfelt. I only wish I’d started at the beginning.