Historical romance almost at its best…
“Anne of the Barricades” is historical romance almost at its best. The narrative gains considerably from the events being reactively unknown (at least to me!). The setting is 1871 when the radical socialist and revolutionary Commune government rules Paris. The novel culminates in the "la semaine sanglante" when the French army broke through the Commune’s improvised barricades with a consequent blood bath.
Crockett is particularly good at conveying the febrile atmosphere of a city under siege. He very cleverly provides the reader with multiple perspectives through the eyes of Jean de Larzac, at different times in charge of the bombardment of the capital, a spy in the besieged city and at the head of a body of soldiers on the Paris streets. Crockett neatly manipulates matters so that his two female principals are on the opposite sides of the barricades. His portrayal of the differing affection that Anne and Nini have for Jean is entirely believable.
From early in the narrative, readers can anticipate how matters must end for Anne; but that doesn’t prevent us momentarily wondering whether or not she will accept Jean’s offer of safe conduct from the city. Crockett achieves genuine heroic status for Anne – no mean feat – in a death that is movingly selfless. Our final, memorable, view of her and her father is also Jean’s, the pair climbing the undefended barricade, “two misty figures enshrined in the mystery of the setting sun”.
Nini Auroy is the most fully developed of the three main protagonists. Crockett convincingly turns her from the confident but shallow Opera artiste to a woman of deep feeling almost overcome by anxiety about Jean’s fate. Crockett misses the opportunity to develop Jean’s character more fully. De Larzac remains the stereotypical soldier throughout – almost unthinkingly following orders, being chivalrous to women whatever the circumstances and taking unthinking delight in weaponry and the destruction it causes. Anne is even less fully developed. We first meet her as a school-marmish figure teaching English to 100-strong batches of gendarmes. Goodness knows how she turns into a revolutionary!
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