Review by Daniel Grieve:
Written by Gilbert Frankau in his later years, The Dangerous Years is a novel split into three sections, Pre-War, Post-War and Present Day, beginning two years before WWI (1912) and ending two years before WWII (1937). With a title such as The Dangerous Years I was expecting good deal of action and a fast paced plot line throughout the novel and the first few chapters gave just this. Opening with Charlotte Carteret, the main protagonist of the novel, with her husband and children aboard a cruise ship on its way to America, it soon becomes apparent that they are in fact aboard the RMS Titanic! Subsequently the ship hits the iceberg and begins to sink sending the plot into a fast paced race to the lifeboats and struggle to find a place on board one. Charlotte makes it onto one with her children but her husband is not allowed and thus goes down with the ship. Having only ever seen the film adaptation of Titanic and never having read any literature about it, I thought Gilbert’s description of ship’s sinking was interesting to read and rather eloquently put across.
“A dark ship. And noise roaring out from that dark ship, shattering the quiet along the sea. The noise was so awful, so unexpected, that one’s whole mind rocked to it; rocked on, while crash followed sliding crash; and between the crashes, groans as of a huge beast in its last torment. Till suddenly there was no more noise only the ghastly shape. That shape Charlotte’s stunned mind could just realise was the half of the ship. It stood upright a darkness beyond the immediate darkness an enormous pillar of shadow, outlined against stars. Looking on that pillar, it seemed as though her heart had stopped its beating, as though she and all those about her were dead. And the ship, also, must be dead. This high and ghastly shape was only its monument. For the monument would not fall. It stood there. Upright. A vast black column above the black plinth of the sea … It had begun to topple. It was no longer quite upright. It slanted. It was being drawn down. Down. More stars a rush of stars above the top of that shadowy slanting column … The last of the ship dived under. She could see only stars now. Billions upon billions of stars ice-bright to the very ink-black knife-edge of the water floor.” (pp. 43-44)
However, after this, the plot seems to somewhat fizzle out as Charlotte and her children return to England and, what promised the be The Dangerous Years, turns into a story dealing with family relationships and quarrels rather than disasters and war. Also, rather than intriguing descriptions such as the previous passage, the writing becomes more mundane and stale as the novel focuses on Charlotte’s struggle over whether or not to marry again and the consequences of her children growing up and leaving her alone. She does actually marry once more and the wedding is set for September 1914. However, with the outbreak of WWI in July 1914 the first section of the novel ends. When the story resumes we immediately learn how, although the marriage did go ahead, Charlotte’s new husband died in battle. In this section I still hoped for more of the dangerous years to return, thinking that the title Post-War would lend to at least a little danger in the form of war-time stories or tales of battles, but still the story remained peaceful, with the only turmoil stemming from Charlotte now being widowed once again and the effects this had on her life. In fact this Post-War section saw even less ‘danger’ than Pre-War did as it instead focused on Charlotte’s children getting married and leaving home.
Present Day saw the most danger through the Spanish Civil War. In Chapters 90 to 96 Gilbert provides full descriptions of wartime action, from the conditions for those living in the besieged towns, to the conditions for the soldiers in battle, to the types of warfare used. These chapters follow Maurice Carteret, Charlotte’s second eldest son, in the Battle of Alcazar and produce some nicely action packed chapters toward the end of the novel, which gave me just enough encouragement to proceed to the end. However, once again after the short burst of action, which resulted in the death of Maurice, the story is once again returned to the mundane life of Charlotte. At this point, she is feeling her loneliest and seems to be showing the signs of a mid life crisis as she notes how old she is beginning to look and feel. Just as she is beginning to shed a tear at this fact she simply tells herself to “Just do the best you can and stop sniveling” and with that the novel ends.
What had the potential to be a fast paced novel full of the danger its title promised turned out instead to be a novel dealing with the more domestic side to life along with family relationships. Although some parts of the story were exciting and the language used for them was eloquent, these parts were heavily outweighed by more mundane events with little excitement. Therefore The Dangerous Years turned out to be a not-so-dangerous novel after all.