Friday, 16 July 2004

Len Deighton: Goodbye Mickey Mouse (1982)

Edition: Book Club Associates, 1983 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 1251

It seems obvious to compare this novel set in an American fighter unit stationed on a Norfolk airfield in the Second World War with Deighton's earlier Bomber. But although the setting is similar, there are many differences between the novels, at several levels. The tensions between the Americans and the locals - the pilots trying hard to live up to the "overpaid, oversexed and over here" cliché - bring a different atmosphere to the story, as does an unusual interest in public relations, not an aspect of the war effort which gets much attention. (And it resonates - spinning war stories for a media circus is not new to wars fought in the eighties and nineties, by any means.)

Bomber reads as though it's a book based on a documentary, because of its twenty-four hour timespan and the careful research into the background details. While Goodbye Mickey Mouse is obviously as well researched, it doesn't feel like a documentary, because the action is spread over several months, the research is presented less obtrusively, and it has a more complex plot which leads up to a veterans' reunion thirty years later. Deighton has also ditched the German characters which are important in Bomber and drastically reduced the descriptions of flying; Goodbye Mickey Mouse is a far better novel as a result.

Comparisons with Bomber proving something of a red herring, it is actually quite hard to find novels which are much like Goodbye Mickey Mouse. It is mainly the theme of the relationships between the Americans and the local British civilians - not quite conquerors and vanquished, but it must have sometimes felt like it - that is so unusual. A British writer almost exclusively using American points of view is also not common.

Goodbye Mickey Mouse - the title relates to the name given to one of the planes and a discussion about whether a phrase like "goodbye" in a name is unlucky - is not really a thriller, centring as it does on relationships not action. That is, of course, Deighton's intention, but it would not make the novel appeal to fans of, say, his early novels. For the general reader, Goodbye Mickey Mouse is also not perhaps Deighton's most immediately appealing writing, though it would repay the effort required to read it.

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