Books not nearly as good are touted as definitive portraits of the war; very little on a best-seller list is more readable. Manning's giant six-volume effort is one of those combinations of soap opera and literature that are so rare you'd think it would meet the conditions of two kinds of audiences: those after what the trade calls 'a good read,' and those who want something more.
One of the "Five Best of World War II Fiction"
The only English woman novelist to have painted a broad, compassionate and witty canvas of men and women at war that invites comparison with Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh
Olivia Manning's greatest achievements are the Balkan and Levant novels. In these she handles her daunting wealth of material with great artistic dexterity and an admirable sense of proportion that at the same time never reduces. Nor does her concern to understand public events impair her analytical comprehension of the private lives of her people.... Olivia Manning wrote as courageously about death and the fear of death-in combat, in accident, through disease, through age-as any novelist in our language this century.
How many Americans who have read Barbara Pym, Beryl Bainbridge, or Iris Murdoch have ever heard of Olivia Manning? Yet she is one of the most gifted English writers of her generation.... Nobody has written better about World War II-the feel of fighting it and its dislocating effects on ordinary, undistinguished lives.