Giles Waterfield knows a lot about history. This is particularly evident in the independent curator and writer’s fourth novel and historic fiction book, The Iron Necklace. The author of The Long Afternoon has had some excellent ideas while developing this novel but the finished product is let-down by his method of execution as the chapters (while short) are slow, nuanced and occasionally boring.
The story is about a British family and a German family who are brought together by a marriage. After the First World War is declared this sends members of the two clans into a kind of disarray (like the rest of the world). English artist, Irene Benson is forced to grapple with being an enemy in her newly adopted home of Berlin while her brother Mark is a diplomat who is struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality.
Waterfield frequently switches between characters and periods with lots of short chapters but this often makes things rather confusing. A lot of the characters (especially the ancestors in the modern day) are not fully explained or realised. This then makes it hard for the reader to become engaged in the story or to genuinely warm to the storytellers.
Irene’s sister, Sophia is perhaps the most interesting individual but her narrative plays second fiddle to Irene and her husband, Thomas’ one. This is a shame because Sophia is an intriguing, independent woman who is working hard as a nurse on the Western front. Her relationship with her suitor and her parents is one of many to be tested in the chaos that is World War I.
The biggest problem with The Iron Necklace is the frequent use of German dialogue for the characters from this country. This shouldn’t be a problem except that absolutely no English translation is offered. So it’s then left up to the reader to either find their own translation (which means that we may not get the author’s true intentions) or we skip entire paragraphs (which could take important elements out of the story).
The Iron Necklace is a great idea that was letdown by too many characters, points in time and chapters. It means that this book is drowning in detail and fails to be the entertaining family drama or insightful historic narrative it could have been. In short, this is one for people who are fans of World War I and who don’t mind a novel that is presented in a challenging way.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/iron-necklace-the/9141581/tab/reviews/section/all/sort/most-recent/page/1