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James Hanley: Our Time Is Gone

The third book in the Fury series is definitely the best. Hanley examines a mother whose son is lost not to war but to prison. He also examines conscious objectors, a woman who, though at her wit’s end, somehow keeps on fighting, an ambitious man trying to rise from the working class and, finally, the World War and the death it brings.

Peter is now in prison for having killed Mrs. Ragner. His mother, still attached to him as ever, tries desperately to see him and, only with the help of her lawyer, does she finally do so. Peter is still naïve, thinking that they will let him out to fight the war. Joe Kilkey has lost Maureen, who has moved to Brightsea with her son to live with a spiv, who deals in pornography, abortion and other shady deals, always just one step ahead of the law. Kilkey tries to get her back. He fails but does manage to get his son back. However, at age fifty-three and in a skilled job, he is suddenly called up. Having nothing against the Germans and feeling the injustice of it all, he refuses to go and is arrested as a conscientious objector. There, with other conchies, he is abused and vilified but manages to hold firm. Hanley gives us an excellent view of how conscientious objectors were treated and how they survived this treatment.

Elsewhere in the family, Desmond is now upwardly mobile – he has been made captain – and openly rejects his working class origins and even toys with taking over his wife’s Irish estate. He, too, is vilified by genuine workers. Denny goes back to the merchant navy and, right at the end, it seems he is drowned when his ship is hit, though his death is left in doubt. Anthony – the good son – has only a small role to play. As before, the real heroine of this story is Fanny Fury, who struggles to survive but keeps her faith and her head up, sure that she will see her Peter and that her Denny will return and they will retire to Ireland. She takes on a menial job, scrubbing dirty ships with her friend Mrs. Gumbs. She moves (twice), is hospitalised, despairs but clings to her faith, rejects most of her family and, yet, keeps going. Hanley’s portrayal of this woman – against the background of an increasingly devastating war – is masterful and it is this that makes this novel so excellent.

Publishing history

First published 1940 by John Lane