Author Q&A:
Louis de Bernieres

The Autumn of the Ace
(Harvill Secker)

Hero image

The bestselling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin returns with another slice of historical fiction. The final instalment in a trilogy, it follows Daniel Pitt, who has served in both world wars – as an RAF fighter in the first and a spy in the second. But conflict is far from behind him. His marriage is fractured, his relationship with his son is fraught and his brother has died. On a pilgrimage across continents, ostensibly to bury his brother, Daniel avoids his problems back in England. But through shared experiences of war he can make right his relationship with his son before the final chapters are written. 

War is a perennial theme of your work and before you took up a career in writing you actually spent a brief time in the army. What is it that has compelled you to return to it throughout your career but ultimately from the arm’s length perspective of a writer? 
I grew up listening to my parents talking about the war, and also their stories of their parents in World War One. I read all their books about it, some of them by old friends of theirs. Because of the Cold War, I fully expected to get frazzled in World War Three, and was stunned when the Berlin Wall came down. War brings out the extremes of human nature in a way that peacetime cannot, so it gives you that much more to write about.

The Autumn of the Ace explores the difference in soldiers’ experiences between the two world wars, which employed very different tactics. How do you think that change in approach to combat affected the people unlucky enough to be on the front lines of both? 
The Second World War was a mobile one, so very many more civilians had their houses and property trashed.  Many more countries were actually occupied by the Germans, and were extensively looted. From the soldier’s perspective a mobile war is much more exciting and interesting, and less dangerous.

Do you have a tried and tested research method for your books or is each one different? 
It’s always a combination of travel, reading, interviews, and prolonged feats of imagination.

The book explores your protagonist Daniel’s relationship with his son following the death of his brother and at a time when male stoicism and heroism were held in high esteem. Have male familial relationships become easier with the passing decades, or are they still fraught?  
I think they are easier now, certainly in my case. I grew very much closer to my father as we both got older. My friends and I embrace, whereas his generation shook hands. The love, however, was and is always there, however it is or was expressed.

You have been called the “direct line that runs through Dickens and Evelyn Waugh”. Who are your literary influences? 
George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, the great Russians, the great Latin Americans. I have been very little influenced by Dickens and Waugh, although I enjoy both. Everybody who writes in English writes under the shadow of Shakespeare. His influence and legacy exert a godlike force.

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