Picture the scene. 1910. The Royal Navy has been demolished, limping away from a victorious fleet of invaders. German invaders. Hundreds of thousands of Germans land on English soil, as William Le Queux puts it, correct even to the “metaphorical button”. Thousands of German spies in England have cut telegraph cables, blown train lines, and restricted any kind of travel. The novel is a flagship of what has been termed invasion literature, and with a premise like this, what self-respecting Englishman could resist? With a review from Max Hastings, and over a million copies sold, this had the promise of an excellent alternative history read.
England’s policy of splendid isolation, coupled with a perceived lack of military personnel and a whole host of fifth column agents working in the country fed this novel, and countless other novels by Le Queux and other scaremongering authors. When I was looking at other books by Le Queux, the fact that, as Hastings stated, the novel was “proclaiming a German threat a decade ahead of the First World War” was undermined nearly completely as an accurate prediction by his other novels, I will list a selection:
*The Great War in England in 1897 (predicting a French/Russian joint threat)
*The Invasion of 1910 (predicting a German threat)
He wrote scores of novels, so surely it is not just me that finds it unsurprising that he got something right?
What would have really benefited this new 2014 edition from the Bodleian Library would have been a nice large map of England at the start, or smaller scale maps of the areas being discussed, as, despite being an Englishman I had no idea of the exact geography of the occurences in the novel.
It also suffers from being unsure of the audience. Is it for military affectionados, with in depth tactics that the layman won’t understand? Is it for the civilians who want to be shocked and thrilled by the resistance? Is it for the government to persuade them to tackle the threat within with spies and the threat without by conscription? It’s a bit higglepiggledy as such-lists of towns I’ve never heard of and have no idea where they are are being fought over using tactics which mean nothing to me. As a civilian who wanted to be shocked and thrilled, it appealed to me, but the in depth descriptions of places which mean nothing to me and tactics which I don’t understand are no help. A sample section reads:
the German position extended from the little town of Holt, on the west, eastward, along the main Cromer road, as far as Gibbet Land, slightly south of Cromer, a distance of five miles
How is this meant to mean anything to me? I don’t know where Cromer is, much less a small lane. This is five miles in a country of fifty-thousand square miles. Give me a map or don’t go into such mind-numbing detail. I know Le Queux wants realism, but this is a little too detailed for most.
Credit where it’s due though, the proclamations and posters that appear throughout the book are very realistic, based on real examples from the Franco-Prussian war and others when Germany faced opposition to its unification.
Also, the ending is very good, the obscure place names have dried up, and are replaced with excellent descriptions of close-quarters fighting, and excellent representations of human nature.
The overly detailed section of this book does get very dull and tedious, but the knowledge that there is an excellent end-part could spur you on. Or you could just read the ending, with the section before that being summed up in the three words “the Germans invaded”.
Narrative voice-often a little too jumpy, with far too much weight placed on location names and not enough on the otherwise fascinating plot-★★½
Readability-unbelievably dull and tedious, with the gems of action being rare, but worthy of the hype. The ending just about made up for the agony of the bombardment of place names which are unknown to practically everyone (and which are probably defunct now anyway)-★★★
Overall-as I cannot say enough, fabulous end part, Le Queux seems caught up and forgets his obsessiveness with names and tactics, and the book gets infinitely better due to it-★★★ (58)