As the Second World War recedes from living memory, it has become a prominent subject for novelists interested in the complex relationship between forms of fiction and ways of remembering. In Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Briony Tallis reshapes her wartime experiences into a fragile romance that disintegrates as soon as she acknowledges that she is trying to repair the past before her memory fails her. How should novels remember what age distorts and erases? This month, two first novels turn back to the war from the fading perspectives of the elderly. Jennie Rooney’s moving debut, Inside the Whale, recounts the war-torn love of two pensioners, Michael and Stevie, as they come to terms with the end of their affair despite sixty years apart.
When Michael is posted to North Africa in 1941, their letters begin to miscarry and their relationship is blown off course. He is traumatised by the conflict and lingers in Africa. She gives birth to their daughter but marries another man at the end of the war. As they try