Book Review: "The Splendid and the Vile" by Erik Larson
5/5 - A brilliant illumination of war-time London
When I think of Erik Larson, I normally think about the book he wrote on the world's fair entitled "The Devil in the White City" and honestly - that stands to be one of my favourite books of the 21st century. Erik Larson is a great writer and can write history in a way that is inviting for all to read and not just the scholars who have studied the topic. One thing I noticed about his writing style is that it is not usual for nonfiction as it contains moments of very full, very overwhelming pieces of emotion. It is something that I adore about his writing because you can really feel each and every move being made over so many years ago that you might as well be standing there with them. "The Splendid and the Vile" is no exception to that. It is a brilliantly written book that illuminates war-time London in its darkness and its glory. It has a way of drawing you into the stories of not just the war, but of the characters surrounding you: Winston Churchill, the politicians etc. all these people were real people and you are drawn to each and every single one's experience of life, love, war and death.
The one thing I have always enjoyed about Erik Larson's writing is the way he can make something that sound scholarly and difficult into something that everyone can learn and read. His books, especially this one, are filled with wonder and personality. We get a view of each individual person, how they grew up and how this impacted the person they turned into. I take the example of Lindemann from the early chapters of the novel, which explains that he was raised vegetarian and his mother used to feed him mayonnaise made from olive oil. This caused him to have this strictness in him that was both considered to be his upbringing and his rebellion to that upbringing. When it comes to Erik Larson's characters, this is something that seriously enhances the story since the way we feel about historical characters and figures is normally two-dimensional. But stating how they became the way that they did is seriously something progressive in that world. It makes them seem very, very human.
Many people have suggested that I read this book and honestly, they were all perfectly correct. I had not read it simply because I thought it would be another one of those contemporary scholarly bullshit books but no, it was far from it. The entertaining aspect of the novel surely comes from the tension that was experienced by Britain during the war. The atmosphere is always heightened and on-edge. There is something about the writing which sometimes makes you forget that this actually did happen as the writing itself is so in-depth and stylistic.
The writing style also has an element to it that makes us want to learn more about the characters. It is a way of recovering there stories, how they got here and what happened to them in that process of getting where they need to be as something that creates a three-dimensional sense of character. As we already know, I love characters that have three-dimensions as much as I love descriptions that are long winded and over-the-top. This book has both.
In conclusion, I think that this book needs to be more widely read. I know that it was popular, but I think it can be more so for the sheer achievement of nonfiction narrative writing. I think that the next books by Erik Larson may contain his chief, magnum opus.