Robert Westall Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I can think of few writers who have put on paper as successfully as Robert Westall has done in The Machine-Gunners the sheer muddle of [the Second World War] and the day-to-day difficulty, for civilians at least, of deciding what was important. This book has a remarkable authenticity of atmosphere. It would be wrong to recommend it as anything but a story but if young people want to know what the war was really like, this book should go some way towards telling them. (p. 2707)

Robert Westall tells his story in a no-nonsense fashion, setting the scene with a light, pointed use of local idiom, cutting in moments at an early warning post, in an air raid shelter, at school, in the McGill's kitchen or Nicky's lonely bedroom, always with due attention to personality. The action of the story is dependent, ultimately, on character. Because Chris is what he is, or McGill his strict, responsible father, or Rudi with his gambling streak or the shrewd schoolmaster Liddell, certain events happen that cause more events, until the final moment when muddle and mistake come to their dangerous yet almost farcical climax. For the timing and tempering of the narrative, the free flow and the relevance of the dialogue, for the controlled humour and perception in the drawing of character, this is a notable first book. (p. 2708)

Margery Fisher, "Special Review: 'The Machine-Gunners'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 14, No. 4, October, 1975, pp. 2707-08.