It is an unlikely love story because it is set in the Second World War and Corelli is an officer in the Italian army that is occupying Iannis’s homeland of Greece. They are enemies, or at least they are supposed to be.
However, despite the conflict between their two countries, they come to see each other as they truly are – not an Italian soldier and a Greek woman, but Antonio and Pelagia, two ordinary, individual human beings. Bernières has said his book is about “what happens to the little people when megalomaniacs get busy”.
So it is rather disappointing to hear that the London-born author has declared he is fed up with the “constant complaining and smug grandstanding of the [Scottish] nationalists, and the barely concealed Anglophobia of too many Scots” and that this has “so alienated us [people in England] that we would be glad to see the back of them”. “It is impossible to continue to love those who no longer love us,” he added, in a letter to the Times newspaper.
While Anglophobia is a problem that Scotland must continue to address, this is not a sentiment held by the majority in Scotland.
And while some nationalists may appear “smug” or complain too much for Bernières’ taste, they are merely politicians who rub him up the wrong way and do not speak for everyone in Scotland or even all nationalists. Doubtless there are plenty of independence supporters who Bernières would deem to be quite modest and stoical.
Furthermore, it is individual people, rather than national populations, who experience love.
As the Scottish Parliament election looms, the danger of the passions aroused in the independence debate is that people in Scotland or in England begin to view each other as some kind of national stereotype or become embittered by those who characterise them in this way in what could descend into a vicious spiral.
Whether the nations of Scotland and the UK divorce or stay together, each one of us should learn from the wisdom of Bernières’ fictional characters, Antonio and Pelagia, who put aside their countries’ differences and fell in love in a most natural and human way.