Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The reissues (2) - Goodbye Mickey Mouse

The second of the four recently re-issued novels I want to look at today is Goodbye Mickey Mouse, Deighton's fourteenth novel first published in 1982. The story follows a group of American fighter airmen based at Thaxted in East Anglia, flying escort missions over Germany in 1943-4 at the height of the air war when the Americans were bombing during the day, at great cost to their men. Central to the novel are two contrasting characters - the reserved Captain Jamie Farebrother and cocky yank Lieutenant Mickey Morse. It is his Mustang Fighter - Mickey Mouse II with the cartoon mouse on the cowling - which gives the novel its title (although Arnold Schwartzman's new front cover for the book shows a more conventional pilot's 'sweetheart' illustration with decals showing seven successful hits for the pilot).

Not surprisingly, for an author who was a former RAF intelligence officer and also flies his own planes and has a long-standing passion for aircraft and their intrinsic importance to modern military history, this book was heavily researched by Deighton. In his new introduction, he quotes with relish the feedback from an 8th Army Air Force veteran he spoke to in his research who talked about the missions of 'Big Week', when up to 800 planes crossed the channel in one of the most intense air battles of the war.

His closeness to flyers was crucial to his research. He recounts how the genesis of the novel came from first-hand research he'd done for a half-completed story about the air war in Vietnam, during research for which he'd spent a couple of weeks on an US air base, training, eating and flying with the aircrews in an F-4 Phantom. While the Vietnam story came to nothing, he writes that he used this research and experiences to look again at the novel possibilities in the air war in the second show, having also been prompted by lengthy correspondence with a historian of the US air force in the UK.

Spending time with veterans of the 91st Bombardment Group at one of their reunions, he recalls just how self sufficient these air bases became for the men: everything was there, dentists, theatres, barbers, shops. It was a self-contained community of men and women. This led him to develop the narrative arc, telling each chapter from the perspective of a different character, not just the pilots but the technical specialists and ground staff. This meant each chapters language and construction would be slightly different, and accuracy and consistency paramount - but he gave up trying to get exact details of all the different speech patterns of this diverse community of Americans.

Though based in wartime, the plot mechanic is simple. Deighton writes: "Goodbye Mickey Mouse is a love story. Almost every fiction book I have written is to some extent a love story; I suppose I must be some sort of closet romantic. This story is a somewhat prosaic tale. It depicts desperate wartime romances and the cruel anguish they bring to all concerned, the ordinary ebb and low of human frailty during extraordinary times."

That sentiment is characteristic of much Deighton's writing on the war, both fictional and fact - the immense impact it has on individuals and their relationships with those around them during a time of unprecedented violence and upheaval.

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