Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

It’s 1809 and a wounded man is being carried into his home in Somerset. His name is Captain John Lacroix and he has just returned from Spain, where he has been fighting in the Peninsular War. Injured, exhausted and haunted by his experiences, he seems close to death, but with the help of his housekeeper, Nell, he slowly regains his strength. Unable to contemplate returning to the war, he sets off for Scotland instead – first to Glasgow, then to the Hebrides, in search of some peace and redemption.

Meanwhile, in Spain, a British soldier called Calley is providing evidence to a military inquiry regarding atrocities carried out in the Spanish village of Los Morales during the retreat of the British army. He says he can identify the man responsible for this war crime, the man who was in command of the troops as they raped and murdered. To satisfy the Spanish that justice has been done, Calley is sent to hunt down and punish the perpetrator of the crime, accompanied by a Spanish officer, Medina, who will act as a witness.

Due to the alternating of the two narratives, it very quickly becomes obvious to the reader that the man accused by Calley is John Lacroix…but can it be true? Can the quiet, decent, sensitive man we have been getting to know on his journey to Scotland really have carried out these appalling deeds? Either there is more to the story than meets the eye or we don’t know John Lacroix as well as we think we do. There’s plenty of suspense as we wonder when we will find out exactly what happened that day in Los Morales and what sort of man John Lacroix really is.

As we wait to see whether Calley and Medina will catch up with their target, Lacroix arrives on a remote Hebridean island where he meets Emily Frend and her siblings, Jane and Cornelius. Together with their absent leader, the mysterious Thorpe, they are the last remaining members of a small community who have made the island their home. Intrigued by their lifestyle, Lacroix compliments Emily on her freedom, only for her to explain to him that she does not consider herself to be free at all: “Is it because I take off my stockings to paddle in the sea?” she asks. “That I have let you see me do it? Is that my freedom?”

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free is a beautifully written novel and although there were one or two aspects of the plot that I found unconvincing and although I was disappointed in the Hebridean setting, which I would have expected to have a much stronger sense of place, I could overlook these things because there was so much else that I liked. Andrew Miller has a lot to say about so many things: guilt and blame, the atrocities of war, independence, redemption and love. This is only the second book of his that I’ve read – the first was Pure, a dark and fascinating novel about the destruction of a cemetery in Paris. I enjoyed both but preferred this one because the characters are stronger and because it left me with more to think about at the end. I’m sure I’ll be reading more of his books; I like the sound of Ingenious Pain, so maybe I’ll try that one next.

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

15 thoughts on “Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

  1. Café Society says:

    Pure is the only Miller novel that I have read as well, Helen. It was a Book Group choice and someone said during the Summer School, that she still felt grubby after reading it, it was so evocative of its setting so it is a shame you don’t feel this one has done justice to the Hebrides. It is very much on my radar though and I hope to get round to it soon.

    • Helen says:

      I would be interested to know what you think of this book. I thought Pure was more atmospheric (and I understand why your Summer School member felt grubby) but this novel impressed me more overall.

  2. FictionFan says:

    I loved Pure, and then hated The Crossing, so I decided to pass on this one till I’d seen a few reviews. This sounds great – I already want to know more about what kind of man Lacroix turns out to be! Pity about the lack of sense of place, but it sounds as if he’s still packed a lot in. Maybe I’m willing to give him another chance… 😉

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read The Crossing and I have to admit, it doesn’t sound very appealing to me at all. I hope you like this one better if you do give him another chance.

  3. Calmgrove says:

    I have a respect for historical novels that have a contemporary relevance as well as psychological depth, and it sounds as though this one has. Off to read your review of Pure as I found that quite haunting though somehow flawed, despite not being quite able to put my finger on why exactly.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think a lot of the topics explored in this book are as relevant today as they would have been in 1809. I found Pure flawed in some ways too, although I did enjoy it, but this book is more impressive, in my opinion.

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