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Sunday, 6 March 2022

‘Take One Life’ by Graham Donnelly

The Book Guild Ltd,
28 February 2022.
ISBN: 978-1-91447103-2 (PB)

 “…my true vocation henceforth will be to further the beliefs and aims of my father.”

William Lyus is born during the early twentieth century.  He and his sister Kitty, share two rooms with their father and mother, Jack and Alice.  This modest accommodation lies above a three roomed flat occupied by Jack’s parents.  Life may not be glamorous, but the Lyus family are aspirational, and William’s father and grandfather provide him with stable role models.  When the family are hit by tragedy early in the shy boy’s life, William feels disorientated by his parents’ grief.  Nevertheless, imbued with a sense of duty he wants to please them by obtaining a good job and making his way in the world. 

Misfortune after misfortune seems to dog William as he matures into manhood.  His desire to do well is undermined when he finds himself dismissed from his initial forays into employment.  Then his loyal nature backfires when unscrupulous employers use him to shield themselves from scandal.  This bad luck knocks his confidence.  His parents offer little in the way of consolation and his low self-esteem deters him from developing meaningful relationships with young women.  He can only watch as his pals are getting engaged and married.

When the wheel of fortune appears to turn in William’s favour, he enjoys a period of personal success and happiness.   Sadly, this cheerful interlude is cut short by another domestic calamity.  The 1930s depression and the troubling years before the Second World War see the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe. William develops an awareness of social, economic and political inequalities, which renews in him a sense of purpose and leads him into some dangerous situations.  Then, he decides to take more direct action and fulfil his destiny, whatever the cost.    

Take One Life is related by a third person narrative voice and from William’s perspective.  We are told that, whilst still a young man, William began to keep a journal and the unfolding story of his life reads as though the narrator is dipping into these records.  Similarly, the historical period during which the novel takes place is described with impeccable detail and provides a fascinating picture of societal changes.  It is the characterisation of William, though, that is so compelling.  He is neither a superhero or a villain, instead he is an ordinary human being, buffeted by the vagaries of life, just like you and me.  And this is the joy of Graham Donnelly’s writing, it is a thoughtful recollection of what is essentially an “unremarkable” life.  It is, however, the life that most of us experience, until and unless circumstances place us in positions where we must act and, perhaps, pay the price of our actions. 

A beautifully written story of one man who, it turns out, is “Everyman," Take One Life is tragic, yet moving and hopeful.  A novel to savour.  Highly recommended.

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-Gentworked 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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