Author: David Baddiel
Details: (c) David Baddiel 2004; Pub Abacus 2005; ISBN 0-349-11746-2
Verdict: The Secret Purposes doesn't really have anything new to say, and I wouldn't rate it much above a generic historical romance.
Reasons for reading it: It was the selection for the local Jewish book discussion group, which I ended up not attending because pseudomonas and hatam_soferet are immeasurably more interesting.
How it came into my hands: Borrowed my parents' copy.
I like Baddiel's writing in general, but The Secret Purposes really doesn't play to his strengths. It is very obvious that he is overly emotionally invested in the subject matter, the plot being based on his grandfather's experiences. Yes, the Holocaust is a serious subject, but The Secret Purposes really comes across as excessively earnest. The occasional humourous interludes seem really tacked on, and are anyway not up to Baddiel's usual standard (he was of course a rather successful professional comedian before he became a writer, and his other books are really funny though far more than just strings of jokes).
The characters are well-drawn and highly plausible, but the plot is mostly pointless relationship maunderings. If I wanted to read about a young couple struggling to maintain their relationship in the face of wartime hardship, there are lots of authors I'd pick over Baddiel, frankly. The relationship and adultery stuff also seems really artificial, a "sweetener" to encourage apathetic young women to read about how horrible the Holocaust was (no duh!) and how shocking it was that Britain interned lots of refugees, most of them Jewish, as enemy aliens. I think the main merit of the book is that it may in fact succeed in reaching an audience who might not otherwise be very aware of this episode of history, and who wouldn't read the kind of historical romance that tSP resembles.
Judged as a historical romance, it's not a bad example of the genre, mainly because the characterization is so good and because it avoids the trap of being overly saccharine. But it's being promoted as a trivial celebrity previously known for writing superficial lad-lit branching out into Serious Literature, and on that level it really doesn't work. I personally think Baddiel's other novels are much stronger; yes, they are funny and contain a lot of sex, beer and football, but that doesn't stop them from being well-written and addressing quite serious themes in a subtle way. tSP somehow reads like a schoolboy essay where the writer is trying to imagine himself in the situation of a Jewish family fleeing Nazi Germany to England, that accidentally grew into a novel. I'd give an A on those terms, but that's about the best I can say about it.