Half of the Human Race opens in the summer of 1911. It is the start of the cricket season and whilst Will Maitland is gearing up for another successful season, Connie Calloway is preparing for a fight of her own; the battle for women’s votes. Their paths soon cross as both feel the impact of the Suffragette Movement on their lives. From violent protests to prison, from Paris to the battlefields of the Somme, this novel starts on the cusp of changing Britain and ends in a Britain recovering from the devastation of war.
When this book was first released in paperback I was working at a well known bookshop and I knew this novel would be a must read even then; it covers my favourite period in history and I am always keen to read books written or set during this period. Oddly enough though The Suffragette Movement is not something I know a great deal about (hangs head in shame as I am a woman after all) but my studies have focused more on men and manliness during the early twentieth century and in typical art reflecting life, women were second on my agenda. It was certainly interesting discovering more about the women who fought for our right to vote and be accepted as equals; I knew something about key names and figures, but I had little idea about the horrors of prison and hunger strikes. It was amazing the sacrifices these women made for the cause, from abandoning their families, facing disgrace and, in one famous case, death having been trampled by a horse.
One of the key features that drew me to this novel was the cricket element. I do have a slight love of the sport. I attempted to play at university, enjoy watching it and my great grandparents were huge cricket fans and I mean HUGE; my great grandad was sat in an armchair looking at a book of photos of English Cricket Grounds, he said ‘X was the best one in the country’ and then he died! There is something about the sport that is typically British, I love how you can spend all afternoon in the sunshine, enjoying a drink and watching the sport. This is quite a big thing as I am not overly keen on any sport, but cricket is the one for me. I enjoyed Quinn’s depiction of cricketing life in the early twentieth century and highlighted the following as a favourite passage:
‘His hear froze as he looked up – the ball had height but no distance – and as it steepled and fell towards the man fielding at square leg, Will knew his time at the crease was over and done with. It was like a foreglimpse of dying.’
It just foreshadows the oncoming horrors of war and reminded me of the idea of sport as a means of proving one’s manliness and how this played a major impact on those signing up to fight on the outbreak of the First World War.
Half the Human Race is a relatively short novel (480 pages) considering it covers such a significant amount of years, spanning from 1911 to 1919; eight years that arguably brought in one of the biggest changes in British history. I can’t decide if I think it needed to focus on less and explore that in detail or if it hit the balance just right. It tries to cover so many issues and most of these it does well, although I was unsure when I first began reading it. I did find it more enjoyable as I went along and I do think it is worth a read if you are interested in a good, historical novel. MIT has certainly reawakened a craving for literature of the First World War, so I think I will be adding a few more to my summer reading list.