I hope you all had a restful weekend! As you all know by now, I love to read and I’m constantly reading books (often more than one at a time). Dublin Zoo by John Michell is a novel that I was recently sent. I haven’t gotten to read it yet, it’s on my long TBR list, but I am taking part in a book tour today for the new release!
Dublin Zoo is composed in three parts and spans the period from the outbreak of World War I until the early years of World War II. Distinguishing Dublin Zoo from many other books, Michell creatively manipulates selected historical events of the era to fit into Harold Bradshaw’s past and present. The result is that, so adapted, these events actually become part of the plot, making for an engrossing and compelling story.
Readers are first introduced to Harold, his parents Albert and Rita, and their impoverished home in the northeast English midlands. In a classic rags to riches to rags story, Albert builds a business empire only for it to be wounded in 1925 and then crushed four years later by the Great Depression. When Rita is subsequently murdered and the broken-hearted Albert commits suicide, Harold, by then nineteen, takes revenge on those responsible. He flees to London beginning the book’s second act. Early into the young Harold’s new life, he falls in love with a woman in her thirties named Katrina. But the affair ends when Harold is convicted of the murder of two mafia soldiers. The final act takes place with the onset of World War II, when Harold is released from prison into the clutches of a secretive British unit and press-ganged into undertaking a dangerous clandestine mission in France revolving around issues to do with the French Resistance and a paramount British strategic objective.
Michell seamlessly weaves together all three parts of the dynamic story that is Harold Bradshaw’s life and times, employing a conversational and engaging writing style. He portrays Harold as a decent and sensitive young man of high intelligence, yet one born with the capacity to calmly and calculatedly inflict violence. The book’s gripping finale is played out in the French city of Marseille in a stunning characterization of the Dublin Zoo title.
Dublin Zoo author John Michell on: RESISTANCE, INTRIGUE, DOUBLE-CROSS, AND WHY HUMAN NATURE WILL ALWAYS TRIUMPH
Question: How did your own professional background play a part in writing this book?
What other elements inspired it?
John Michell: I refer in the book to the workings of the British diplomatic service, something that draws extensively on my time as an Australian diplomat. And more broadly within the framework of my professional background, my experience of the law and bureaucratic processes – especially the tensions that can arise between government agencies as each seeks to make its contribution to the whole of government effort – has also shaped events. I see the realism this injects as central to creating a story all the more engaging for its credibility. For all that, at its heart, Dublin Zoo is really a story revolving around the theme of the French Resistance during World War II. It’s a subject that has fascinated me ever since I was a little boy.
Q: Can you elaborate on why, out of all the historical events that took place during this
time, you chose to focus on the French Resistance the most?
JM: I suppose my earliest impressions of the Resistance were a little unrealistic, causing me to view the Maquis as a group rather more cohesive and flawless than they actually were. When I did get to research the Resistance, the thing that struck me most was the reputedly lax attitude of some of their number to operational security. Dublin Zoo is a work of fiction and not meant to be a serious critique, much less a denigration, of the French Resistance, whom collectively were impossibly brave and did much for the allied war effort. But I do understand that some Maquis were prone to loose chatter, often resulting in denunciation by collaborating French, and that various Resistance cells lacked the checking mechanisms necessary to prevent infiltration by traitors, predominantly Resistance members “turned” by the Germans – both are topics on which
I pick up in the book. Coming from a security background myself, this apparent carelessness struck a chord with me, particularly given the unrelentingly unforgiving environment they were in. It became the basis for the plot I devised, around which I gradually built the rest of the story.
Q: What makes Dublin Zoo different from the various historical fiction books that take
place over World War II?
JM: Dublin Zoo employs three sub-plots weaved into a single story. The historical setting in which the composite story plays out spans the period from the outbreak of World War I until the early years of World War II. That is, the book is not completely preoccupied with WWII per se but rather a wider slice of the first half of the twentieth century. The book’s uniqueness, however, is not to be found in its spread of time or its backdrop. Rather it’s in the fact that selected historical events from the period are adapted to become part of the story itself. There are many, many instances of this in the book. But take for example Churchill’s decision in 1925 to return Britain to the gold standard. So adapted, it plays a huge part as the catalyst for the failure of the business empire painstakingly built by Harold’s farther – Harold is the central character – something which shapes Harold’s destiny as told in the book’s second and third sub-plots.
Then there’s also the “teaser text” technique I employ. That is, the first and second sub-plots are dotted with elements of the third sub-plot, making for a relatively unique structure and an absorbing story that, from the outset, keeps the reader in touch with the third sub-plot. Even when the third sub-plot takes over and begins to steer the narrative to its conclusion, the same applies in reverse in that this third phase draws on events arising in the first and second sub-plots. Overall, the effect is to make Dublin Zoo a seamlessly engrossing tale.
Q: What does Dublin Zoo tell people about our society?
JM: Human nature is unchanging, in that in any group of people there will always be politics and competing agendas no matter how much the world evolves around them. It is also a book that underlines how human beings will always feel the need for love, often when they least expect it and in odd places and circumstances, and most particularly when they are trying to resist its irresistible force. The book explores how this sometimes makes them do things they wouldn’t usually do, good and bad. And, of course, Dublin Zoo also highlights the folly of war.
Q: Since the book takes place in Britain and France, how did you come up with the title
Dublin Zoo, and what does it mean?
JM: Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that the story has precious little to do with the zoo in Dublin. The best way I can explain it is to say it’s an expression I’ve coined that has a particular meaning. It derives from a visit I made to the zoo way back in 1987 on a cold and bleak Dublin winter’s day. It was a very moody and introspective atmosphere – at least for someone with my gene set. Ever since, the thought has rattled around in my head that Dublin Zoo could be an apt expression for other contexts and situations, rather than just a single use noun applying to an institution in Ireland housing animals for inspection by members of the public! My hope is that readers of Dublin Zoo will grow to appreciate the capacity of the expression in the context it is used to shape their own lexicon.
JOHN MICHELL is now a full-time writer after serving 33 years as an Australian
diplomat from 1979-2012. In aggregate, he spent 21 years abroad while in diplomatic
service. Michell is also a Juris Doctor who remains admitted as a barrister and solicitor of
the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory. Since 2017, he has explored several different writing options, with Dublin Zoo emerging as his debut book. Michell currently resides in Brisbane, Australia. Visit his website for more information.
Dublin Zoo will be available on February 11, 2020 on Amazon and will be distributed through IngramSpark.
*This book was sent to me complimentary for review purposes.*