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Monday, 25 May 2020

‘Unwritten Rules’ by Graham Donnelly


Book Guild Publishing Ltd,
28 February 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91320820-2 (PB)

Unwritten Rules is set mainly in London as the Cuban Missile crisis begins and threatens world peace.  Closer to home, the Profumo affair raises concerns about Britain’s national security.  The book’s main character is Anthony Fernand, a comparatively minor civil servant whose complex personal life begins to unravel at the same time as his senior colleagues believe that the world is about to erupt into a global conflict.  Fernand’s professional role is the link between these two distinctive plots.  Inevitably, the personal and political narratives escalate and begin to overlap as the story develops.

Fernard joined the Home Office after a chequered start to his working life.  Now married with two sons, he owns a comfortable home in the suburbs and is employed as an Immigration official. Beneath this respectable persona, however, lurks a discontented soul.  Early on in the narrative Fernand’s actions betray him as an individual who likes to believe he is just a little more powerful and influential than he actually is.  He also has a wandering eye and makes the most of the opportunities he has to meet young women working in the increasingly “permissive society” of London in 1962. 

The book evokes the claustrophobic atmosphere of English suburban living during the 1960s.  Anthony’s wife, Ruth, is located at home with the couple’s two sons whilst her husband commutes into town hoping to pull himself and his family ever higher up the socio-economic ladder.  Gender norms are everywhere in evidence and if Ruth is trapped in the marriage so Anthony is constrained by his role as head of the household in a job that seems to be going nowhere.  Fernard is an intriguing protagonist precisely because he is so ordinary. His risky behaviour seems clichéd in the twenty-first century, but he is a creature of his time - not always likeable, but never completely despicable either.  A series of small, but cumulative, errors of judgement conspire against him.  They are all of his own making and yet I felt a surprising amount of sympathy for him.

Unwritten Rules is a corker of a novel.  Well researched, well written and immensely readable.  I loved it.
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Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Graham Donnelly was born and grew up in London. His varied professional background includes government service, international banking and lecturing in Economics and Management. His first five books were written in the 1980s and 90s and related to his academic work. His first novel, Mussolini's Chest, arose out of his interest in modern history and how ordinary people react to extraordinary situations and is based on true events. His second novel, Unwritten Rules, draws on his own experience in the Home Office and his knowledge of the state security issues at that time. He lives with his wife near Colchester and has two children and three grandchildren.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.   

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