It seemed appropriate to begin reading a novel about the horror of World War One on the day when Europe paid tribute to those who lost their lives in the conflict. Ive read several books by British authors so wanted something that was written from the perspective of one of the other participants in the theatre of war. My choice was Fear by the French author Gabriel Chevalier.
Better known as the author of Clochemerle, a satire about a villlage French morals, Chevallier was called up at the start of the War and, though wounded, managed to last until the end. Fear, published in 1930, tells the story of his alter ego Jean Dartemont.
Dartemont spends the war in fear. He cowers in trenches and tries to escape duties . He is scathing of the officers in charge and of the people in France who viewed the war as golly adventure at first. It’s this voice and the graphic descriptions of life at the front that caused controversy when the book was published.
Having had the benefit of almost 100 years to reevaluate the war, some of Chevalier’s attacks may no longer have the same effect but I’m not far enough into the novel to judge yet. It could turn out to be less interesting than I’d hoped or an undiscovered classic.
One book that didn’t turn out the way I expected was Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, an author from Pakistan. This was a novel I found in a library sale and bought thinking it as about the effect of the nuclear bomb attack on Nagasaki. The book actually opens on the day the bomb falls. What surprised me was how Shamsie took this event and made it the starting point for a novel which ranges across several theatres of war – India, Afghanistan and then USA and its war on terrorism. Shamsie captured the issues well and showed their impact on the two families but never allowed this to become simply a family saga. Well worth reading.