First Time Solo by Iain Maloney
April 1943. Eighteen-year-old Jack Devine is bound south to London to start RAF training. He dreams of playing jazz, turning girls’ heads and flying Spitfires. In the coming months his life will change irrevocably. Iain Maloney’s First Time Solo is a compelling coming-of-age narrative and an accomplished debut.
First Time Solo perfectly evokes the transience and fractured normality of wartime life. RAF training soon supersedes the reality of home, and Jack finds friendships and distractions with his fellow aircraftmen – the illicit thrills of jazz, sex and liquor. Throughout, there is a sense that the characters are living on borrowed time, a feeling exacerbated by the fates of their brothers and in the servicemen's talk of life ‘after the war’.
It comes as a shock when the brutalities of war infringe upon their lives – yet one we have long anticipated. The story of ingenuous young Jack Devine is not a new one, but an old story told well. Maloney does not rely on unnecessary plot convolutions or sentimentality to carry the novel. Instead, he has created characters and relationships who feel genuine – normal people reacting to extraordinary situations. Maloney’s debut is navigated with compassion, humour and grace. Let’s hope that his First Time Solo is not his last. [Ceris Aston]