Archive for the ‘Jerrard Tickell’ Category

Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell ~ 1951. This edition: The Reprint Society, 1953. Hardcover. 256 pages.

This spur-of-the-moment purchase from the ever-rewarding second-hand book emporium Baker’s Books in Hope, B.C. turned out to be a little bit different from what I had anticipated on the strength of my quickie browse. From the few paragraphs I read before adding it to the book pile, I expected it to be an engagingly written “war novel”, and so it was, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the importance of the cow!

Appointment with Venus turned out to be a mixed-emotion sort of story, its farcical premise shot through with brutal realism, being set in 1940 as German troops occupy a small Channel Island.

The island in question, Armorel, is fictional, though based on the real island of Sark, where the German occupation did happen, as apparently did the removal of pedigree cattle from under German noses.

The rest of the tale is pure conjecture, presented by an inventive novelist with a strong dependence on the literary device of coincidence, and occasional lapses into bathos. Despite moments of “Really, dear writer?” it mostly worked, and I am more than willing to follow up on the other works of this Irish author, assuming from my experience here that they will be readable if not quite plausible.

Here’s the gist of this particular story.

In 1940, immediately post-Dunkirk, German troops arrive on the fictional Channel Island of Armorel, to be greeted by a delegation of island officials led by the Provost, nominal head of state of the island since the departure of its youthful hereditary leader, the Suzerain, to fight for Great Britain at the outbreak of the war.

Under orders from Germany, the occupation is to a great degree a “soft” one, the velvet glove over the iron fist of the occupiers being well padded, and life goes on for the islanders relatively normally, though an underground communication network immediately springs up to counter the German seizure of all radios and such.

Meanwhile, back in England, the occupation is greeted with quiet consternation, in particular in the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, where it is suddenly found that a prize cow rejoicing in the name of Venus, bred to a majestically pedigreed but  ill-fated bull named Mars, is pregnant and due to give birth under the Nazi flag.

The offspring of this bovine union is anticipated to be something ultra-special in the way of British cattle breeding, and there is no way in which the combination of maternal and paternal lines can be repeated, Mars having fatally stepped on a land mine shortly after his dalliance with Venus.

What else to do than mount a clandestine rescue mission, to snatch the pregnant Venus from under the very noses of her Teutonic captors, striking a dual blow for England in mortifying the enemy and furthering the development of British super cows.

Unfortunately for this plan, the head of the German forces on Armorel was, in his past civilian life, an accomplished cattle breeder, and he has already seen and fallen in love with Venus, and has made arrangements for her immediate departure to the Fatherland, in order that her offspring be born on German soil, to the furtherance of German bovine superiority.

The clock’s a-ticking…

First edition dust jacket, Hodder and Stoughton, 1951.

A rescue mission is mounted, consisting of a fearless young English major rejoicing in the name of Valentine Morland, and the beautiful sister of the absent Suzerain of Armorel, one Nicola Falaise of the A.T.S.  There are some side players, to be sure, but we won’t go into that here, except to say that one of them is the stock winsomely clever small boy, and another a gruffly sea captainish type.

On the island resides key figure number three, Nicola’s cousin Lionel, dedicated pacifist and tormented artist, who is drawn into the plot once Valentine and Nicola land to undertake their mission of disguise and bovine abduction. (We add a love triangle to the busy plot.)

Complications and drama ensue. There is abundant farce, and, to balance this, episodes of poignancy and tragedy. Of course the Brits eventually come out ahead, though one of them undertakes the ultimate sacrifice in order for the undertaking to succeed.

This oddly enticing concoction of a tale comes very close to the ridiculous, but it is well written enough to remain engaging throughout.

My rating: 6.5/10.

Appointment with Venus caught the attention of British screenwriters immediately upon its publication, with a 1951 film version starring David Niven and Glynis Johns as Valentine and Nicola being a respectable box office success. The 1962 Danish “war comedy” film, Venus fra Vestø, was also based on Tickell’s tale. A four-part radio play version of Appointment with Venus was produced and broadcast by the BBC in 1992.

The novel seems to be the best-known of Jerrard Tickell’s books, but he also wrote several non-fiction war books, and a respectable number of light fictions, which I fully intend to dip into if and when opportunity allows. Check out this tantalizing list, full of imagination-catching titles, courtesy Wikipedia.

Non-fiction:

  • Odette: The Story of a British Agent (1949)
  • Moon Squadron (1956)
  • Ascalon: The Story of Sir Winston Churchill’s Wartime Flights from 1943 to 1945 (1964)

Novels:

  • Yolan of the Plains (1928)
  • See How They Run (1936)
  • Fly Away Blackbird (1936)
  • Silk Purse (1937)
  • Jill Fell Down (1938)
  • Gentlewomen Aim to Please (1938)
  • At Dusk All Cats Are Grey (1940)
  • Soldier from the Wars Returning (1942)
  • Appointment with Venus (1951)
  • The Hand and Flower (1952)
  • Dark Adventure (1952)
  • The Dart Players (1953)
  • The Hero of Saint Roger (1954)
  • Miss May: The Story of an Englishwoman (1958)
  • Whither Do You Wander? (1959)
  • The Hunt for Richard Thorpe (1960)
  • Villa Mimosa (1960)
  • Hussar Honeymoon (1963)
  • High Water at Four (1965)

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