I have to admit, I’m not usually a fan of fiction books set during the years between 1939 and 1945. Not that they aren’t good books to read, but I usually get so invested in the characters, that I actually find it hard to read something that very well may have happened to someone. It’s for this reason I tend to stay away from World War II dramas.
I came across ‘The Dynamite Room‘ whilst on a break at work, and I immediately became interested when I read the blurb. This was not a normal drama in which we are put in the point of view of a soldier during battle. The Dynamite Room‘ tells the story of a young girl, Lydia, an escaped evacuee, being held hostage in her own home by a German Soldier, who informs her that Britain is on the brink of invasion, and it would be in her best interest not to leave the house. As Lydia and her German Captive – Heiden – spend five days in isolation together, it is clear that there is more to Heiden’s story than him being the first German of an invasion, and that quite possibly, it’s no accident that he ended up in Lydia’s home.
The story is told over a series of timelines, and is through this that we begin to understand just how these two very unlikely companions came to be in each other’s lives. There is the timeline set in the present, with Lydia and Heiden together. There is a timeline set before the War, with Lydia growing up in England, and then there is the timeline of Heiden in Germany, with his lady companion Eva, and her thoughts and fears of the inevitable War. It is clear that it is the collective memories of Heiden and Lydia that drive the narrative forward, that gives us a better understanding as to why certain events are happening – but this is also a flaw in Hewitt’s narrative. Don’t get me wrong, this novel is impeccably written, and it’s extremely hard to believe that this is Hewitt’s first novel, but I think he may have overlooked the idea that a memory that has happened before the present (i.e an event that happens in Heiden and Eva’s timeline) should ultimately affect Heiden throughout the present timeline with himself and Lydia. But this doesn’t seem to happen. The event I am referring to (and I won’t say anything just in case you wish to read it) does not seem to bother Heiden at all until we (the reader) learn of it, and then suddenly it becomes all he can think about. This wouldn’t happen in reality. The traumatic incident would have been thought of at least once during the first four days of Heiden’s five day stay in England. I understand that Hewitt has probably done this in an attempt to hide what has happened until the right point for dramatic effect for the reader (and believe me, it works), but realistically, what he has done would just never happen in reality, and I can’t help but think it’s quite flawed for him to try and pass it off as something that might.
One of the best aspects of this book, – and I do apologise for any offence I cause to anyone with what I’m about to say – is how likeable Hewitt portrays Heiden, a Nazi soldier, particularly in comparison to Lydia, an eleven year old English girl. Let me try and explain what I mean. Lydia is a typical girl who spent her time prior to the war playing with her siblings and the children in her area, and learning some important life lessons from her mother. But that’s all she is. She could be any eleven year old evacuee from England during the Second World War. Heiden, on the other hand, is a man who, when he had the chance to murder this poor, innocent girl, he stopped himself, for reasons we do not learn until later on in the book. Now, I’m not saying that this choice has made him a hero, but we suddenly become invested in Heiden a lot more than we do Lydia. Heiden is burdened; Heiden is in pain, and Heiden has secrets. Hewitt has written this character in a way that, even when he is being a little firm with the eleven year old girl he is holding hostage, we actually enjoy reading from his point of view the most! Even when we’re in the timeline with himself and Eva, we enjoy reading those segments a lot more than when we’re with Lydia before the War.
The one aspect of this novel I had a little difficulty wrapping my head around was the relationships Hewitt had forged between certain characters. I’m not talking about the strange, almost sexually-desiring relationship that Lydia and Heiden felt for one another; I’m referring to some of the brief encounters we have with Alfie and Eddie. They seem like two, ordinary little boys until one day – for some reason – they kiss. I wasn’t completely sure if Lydia had imagined this kiss, or of the boys actually did lock lips whilst wrestling…but I couldn’t understand the point of it. It didn’t add anything to their particular story. We knew that Alfie was nicer to Lydia when Eddie wasn’t around, and we knew he was a lot more typical-little-boyish when Eddie was with him, so why did they randomly kiss at one point? The kiss happens only for a second, and it’s never mentioned again, nor made reference to by Lydia for the rest of the novel. It didn’t even really change Alfie and Eddie’s relationship…so why did Hewitt feel it necessary to include it? I’m not saying I’m not about promoting homosexuality…but in this incidence, I don’t think it was altogether needed.
Although I can kind of understand it, I feel I need to address Lydia’s infatuation with Heiden at certain points during her five day encounter with him. There are times when she sees him (naked or even just wearing her father’s clothes), that she clearly feels some kind of attraction to him. Whether this is her missing her father, or only being able to express certain desires upon the only male she had at her disposal, I felt a little uncomfortable reading these sections of the book. I’m sure that Heiden is an attractive man, but Lydia is eleven, and a couple of times, I needed to remind myself that no matter how this relationship can be perceived, it is highly inappropriate – but Hewitt portrayed this beautifully within his novel. Though these incidents happened every so often, it was never taken too far or handled distastefully.
I have to admit that I really did enjoy this book. There were only a handful of times when I found my concentration wavering, but it doesn’t take Hewitt long to draw me back in. That’s what I liked the most about this book – it’s not the most action filled of books, yet Hewitt still manages to entice you to turn the page. I find that a lot of novels (particularly those surrounding the World Wars) sometimes fall into the trap of having far too much going on – of course, during the Wars, a lot was going in – but for a reader who wants to lose themselves in a brilliant, eerie drama, Hewitt delivers exactly what the reader is looking for. I’ve heard Hewitt will be releasing a book in 2015, and if it’s anything like this one, I look forward to reading it.
VERDICT: An explosive and enticing novel. Definitely worth a read. 9/10.