Cyprus 1956. The newly promoted Major Hal Treherne is sent to the garrison at Episkopi, where his wife Clara and their young twin girls join him. It is a time when the Greek Cypriots are seeking union with Greece and resorting to terrorist attacks on the occupying British forces, who respond with belligerence. Hal comes from a family tradition of military service, while Clara’s background is different. But it is a happy enough marriage, until things begin to go wrong when Hal is involved in some nasty counter-insurgency activities and is unable to prevent British troops’ violence against the terrorists/freedom fighters, as well as seeing the results of terrorist attacks. He begins to question the very meaning of his posting. Clara is also afraid of the violence and a distance grows between them. It all comes to a head when Hal sends Clara and the twins to a place of greater ostensible safety in Nicosia. Following another attack, Hal makes a fateful decision about his future in the British Army, and they return to England, though not in the circumstances they could have expected. Hal makes a new beginning in the austere surrounding of 1950s England.
This is Sadie Jones’s second novel – her first, The Outcast, also set in the 1950s, was published to wide acclaim in 2008 (and was an Editors’ Choice in the HNR). Small Wars is also a highly impressive work, and the product of a talented writer. The descriptions of both a Cypriot summer and autumn in England are evocatively and beautifully narrated, with precise observations of the minutiae that make up the daily progress of life. The historical context is comprehensively researched and presented. This is another fine achievement, somewhat different in style to her first novel, but engaging and readable.