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Something Must Be Done

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Success Stories

by Dora Beale Polk


ISBN 1 870206 56 8
Honno, 2003
206pp, paperback
Retail price 7.99

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Review by Deborah Fisher

It would be fair to say that King Edward VIII has not been the subject for much quality fiction. Perhaps it is time he had his turn, and Dora Beale Polk has achieved that with her masterly novel, Something Must Be Done. Forget any preconceived ideas conjured up by phrases like "a Valleys childhood". This is no sickly, sentimental picture of a decent, devout little community struggling with poverty and oppressive landlords. This is a story that rings true, and an exciting story to boot.

With the benefit of historical hindsight, we know from the start that King Edward is going to become king in January, 1936, and abdicate in December of the same year. And just in case we didn’t know that, the author makes it clear from the first chapter. It is what happens in between the anticipation and the abdication that is interesting, and what happens to Edward VIII is often mirrored by the fate of his doppelganger, Fred Williams, who admires the Prince of Wales so much that he has named his daughter (our narrator) Davidia in honour of his idol. The contrast between what Fred actually knows of the royal lifestyle and what he thinks he knows of Edward/David’s character is subtly highlighted in a story that fascinates from beginning to end. The "king-napping" plot is told at second hand, making it all the more credible and keeping up the suspense in a way that turns anti-climax into an art.

The story is partly about Davidia herself, and the way her relationship with her father colours her hopes and ambitions. A sensible child, she is considered fit to be trusted with certain secrets, and it turns out to be as well for her father and his associates, because it is through Davidia that the ultimate treachery is discovered and foiled.

Something Must Be Done is not a romance; though it is perhaps the story of one man’s love for another, I hasten to add in a completely non-sexual way. There is nothing twee in Viddy’s description of her home life. Her special relationship with her father (who, in common with so many fathers of girls, allows her to behave like the son he never had) is handled without excessive emotion and without the innuendo to which many twenty-first century writers would have been tempted.

Yes, this is a straight, no-nonsense story, the implausibility of the plot’s climax swept away by the clear and yet attractive style of writing combined with the ultimate believability of the characters. The men of this village are a strange combination of the stereotype and the individual: the Irish rag-and-bone-man who longs to be accepted as a member of the community; the demented preacher, the self-important self-employed tradesmen and the somewhat innocent working man who believes his king above politics. History being already made, we know how disappointed he is going to be.

Readers of these pages will know how rare it is for a book to escape review without any criticism. Try as I might, I can’t think of a single thing about this novel that I would change, and I applaud Honno for picking it up where larger publishers failed. It truly deserves that over-used epithet, "a modern classic".

And Such Great Names As These