I’ve just finished reading The Otterbury Incident by Cecil Day-Lewis. I don’t think I’d heard of the author before someone at work recommended and lent me the book, but he was Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in ’72, and he also wrote under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake.
The Otterbury Incident was published in 1948, and is set in a small town in England shortly after the Second World War, written from the perspective of a schoolboy named George…
“This is a really super story—I should know, I wrote it. My name is George, and I’m Ted’s second-in-command: Ted is is centre-forward of the Junior XI at King’s School in Otterbury and a first class chap. He’s the leader of our company, and the story began with our battle against Toppy’s company. We were so worked up in the excitement of victory that Nick Yates kicked a football through the big window of the classroom next to the Headmaster’s study.
“Poor old Nick! When the Head said he’d have to pay for it he looked like a puppy with distemper: he’d no hope of raising £4 14s. 6d. in a week than of going to the moon. So we signed a Peace with Toppy’s company and planned Operation Glazier to get the money for Nick. And if you want to know how it worked, and what happened after it was over, you’d better get cracking on Chapter 1.”
The Otterbury Incident really is a charming book. It begins strongly, with the two gangs of schoolboys from King’s School doing battle over the Otterbury Incident, a bombsite in the middle of the town. The kids show wonderful camaraderie and imagination as they play their game of war, and I thought from the start that I was going to love it.
Shortly after that comes the matter of raising of the £4 14s. 6d for the broken window, and I didn’t find that so thrilling. Fortunately that’s not the focus of the plot, and as the blurb of my copy reads, “The plan went smoothly and soon the money had been collected. But that’s just the beginning of the story. It’s what happened after that that makes exciting – and surprising – reading.” It’s amazing what a group of boys can achieve if they work together and have some communication, and although most of their actions are probably unwelcome by the community they do make an entertaining story.
Imagination, camaraderie, mystery, distrust, and detection. As long as you don’t mind (or especially if you enjoy…) the ‘jolly’s and shillings of slightly dated English this book is definitely worth a read.