The Birdcage, Clive’s first novel, is now available:
Salonika, 1915: a city more than half-Jewish, which – until a few months ago – was one of the jewels in the Ottoman crown. After a brief Bulgarian interlude, it is now suddenly Greek. A city nominally neutral, but teeming with French, British and Serbian armies, to hold it against the Austro-German forces to the north, with their Bulgarian allies. A city seething with intrigue, where café society pursues its way unperturbed, within earshot of the fighting, where the foreign soldiery seeks its pleasures among the shabby streets, and where the native inhabitants are eager to make from them what money they can. This is The Birdcage – named after the miles of tangled barbed wire which separate the city from the fighting to the north. It is the Casablanca of WWI.
The book describes a shifting kaleidoscope of nations, cultures and political ambitions, through the eyes of a group of English men and women blown here by different winds: young nurses from a Women’s Hospital; seasoned soldiers from Gallipoli; mysterious intelligence officers. A talented but uncouth artist loves Elsie; Isabel, daughter of the Surrey Hills, finds that, at the age of twenty-nine, she is not immune to the charms of a Serbian officer; a section of Kite Balloonists want simply to preserve the decencies among which they have been brought up, in a war where chivalry only goes so far.
Welcome to a world of perilous ascents – and abrupt descents – from observation balloons; of madcap journeys by mule, by Wolseley motor car and by foot over the grim northern mountains, where the opposing armies are locked in combat; of U-boats lurking in the waters off the city; of sinister and dangerous Enver Effendi, who says he is Ottoman – or is it Bulgarian? Or even Venezuelan? What is his game? Where is all the petrol disappearing to? The breathless ride is just beginning, in a tale where the spirit of P G Wodehouse meets the world of Biggles and R C Sherriff, and the sense of time and place is uniquely vivid and real.
“Mr Aslet writes superbly well, his prose touched with irony like Vermouth in a good martini…His mines, laid with such apparent artlessness, go off one by one as the book approaches its surprising and satisfying conclusion.”