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G B Edwards: The Book of Ebenezer Le Page

In his introduction to this book, John Fowles describes it as a novel of reminiscences and that is probably as good a description as any. Ebenezer tells his story, against the backdrop of Guernsey (which, unlike his creator, he never leaves), from early in the 20th century to almost the end of the century. Apart from the German occupation, not a great deal happens and most of the novel shows Edwards/Le Page’s love for characters as we get story after story of all of Ebenezer’s relatives – and he has a lot – as well as of his friends and acquaintances. Ebenezer is a cantankerous, independent-minded type (he never marries, for example), as can be found in many other books but, of course, despite his irascibility, he is loveable and, despite his professed misanthropic nature, he always seems to eventually have a nice word and a helping hand for most people.

Ultimately, apart from Ebenezer, it is the island of Guernsey that is the hero, particularly as it has to face up to two invasions – the German invasions and then the British tourist invasion. Ebenezer hates the British probably more than he hates the German and takes every opportunity to mock them. But he loves his fellow Guernseymen and -women. Apart from his parents, there are four that get his special affection. There is his dear sister, Tabitha, who suffers from the German occupation and ultimately dies from what the doctor calls post-occupationitis. Liza is the only woman who he might have married but, like him, she is too independent. She has two children by two different men and does not marry either. Ebenezer and Liza bump into each other over the years but each retains their own independence and identity. There is his cousin Raymond, a decent man, who worships his cousin, Horace, and who suffers bitterly from Horace and then, when he marries, from his wife, a nasty woman called Christine, who eventually takes their children to England, and he ends up slowly fading away, despite Ebenezer’s care, till he is killed by a German mine. Finally, there is his boyhood friend, Jim, a kindly soul who makes the mistake of marrying the harridan, Phoebe, and then is killed in the war. But all the characters are painted with affection and that is the strength of this book. With little plot, it is the myriad characters that drive it and, like Ebenezer, we grow attached to them over the years and we long to go to Guernsey to meet them.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Hamish Hamilton