By Diane Armstrong

Publisher/Year: HQ Fiction/2022

Publisher’s blurb

June 1940. `It was a perfect June evening that began with hope and ended in despair.’ So begins the journal of Hugh Jackson, a Jersey doctor, whose idyllic world is shattered when Britain abandons the Channel Islands which are invaded by the Germans. Forced to choose between conflicting loyalties, he sends his pregnant wife to England, believing their separation will be brief. It’s a fateful decision that will affect every aspect of his life.

May 1942. Young Tom Gaskell fumes whenever he sees the hated swastika flying from Fort Regent. Humiliated by Jersey’s surrender and ashamed of his mother’s fraternisation with the occupiers, Tom forms an audacious plan, not suspecting that it will result in guilt and tragedy.

April 2019. Sydney doctor Xanthe Maxwell, traumatised by the suicide of her colleague and burnt out by the relentless pressure of her hospital work, travels to St Helier so she can figure out what to do with her life. But when she finds Hugh Jackson’s World War II journal, she is plunged into a violent world of oppression and collusion, but also of passion and resistance. As she reads, she is mystified by her growing sense of connection to the past. Her deepening relationship with academic Daniel Miller helps her understand Jersey’s wartime past and determine her own future.

By the time this novel reaches its moving climax, the connection between Tom, Xanthe and Hugh Jackson has been revealed in a way none of them could possibly have imagined.

Reviewer: Diana Dickens

Dancing with the Enemy commences in 1940 Jersey (Channel Islands) with a doctor whose work is critical to his community, then switches to 2019 Sydney with a doctor questioning if her pursuit of the medical profession is worthwhile.

This is a clever book, written with engaging style. Although you might guess what is about to happen, there’s plenty you don’t realise. Diane Armstrong mixes history with fiction and immerses the reader in both the 1940s and present day. Tough questions arise as to what is legal and ethical when facing dire circumstances. Would we act nobly, or perhaps act only to preserve ourselves? People’s choices often surprise both themselves and others.

The author develops the plot well. I enjoyed the story’s twists and turns. I started reading Dancing with the Enemy on a plane trip and couldn’t wait to get back to the house to finish it.

The juxtaposition of time periods works well and provides a great canvas on which the characters develop. Dr Jackson is a likeable character, but did he make the correct decision? Your perceptions at the beginning of the book may change by the end. Dr Xanthe Maxwell escapes from what has become too difficult for her to remain a part of. Her struggle is both well portrayed and well developed.

Tom Gaskell has a rough time, and his unforgiving nature is understandable and believable whereas his mother is unlikeable. Each, however, choose their own paths.

Diana Armstrong bases some characters on real people whose stories are derived from memoirs, academic papers and people she met when in Jersey. It has paid off handsomely as the characters have a real authenticity about them; the history and knowledge of events is undeniable and lends a realistic feel to the story. 

“But you ask, what could they have done? Perhaps not much. But they could have hesitated, challenged, objected, delayed, or even refused to hand over lists of their Jewish neighbours. It might not have affected the outcome but would have been a stand for morality.”

Dancing with the Enemy :HarperCollins Australia