French authorsPakistani authorsSunday Salon

A hit and a maybe

FearIt 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. 

Burnt shadowsOne 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.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

9 thoughts on “A hit and a maybe

  • What an interesting couple of novels. I have not heard of either of them.The Shamsie sounds particularly interesting.

  • The book is new to me but sounds interesting. However before I dip my toe I will wait for your final judgement on classic or less interesting. I’ve read couple of Kamila Shamsie novels and enjoyed them both. Will look out for this.

    • I’m about half way through Fear and it is really gripping me Col.

      • In that case I’ll get my toe ready to duly dip!

  • Fear sounds brilliant, I think I would like to read that. I loved Burnt Shadows. I’ve read all Kamila Shamsie’s novels and enjoy her writing.

    • With all the World War One reading you’ve done I’m surprised to find something new to you Ali. It could well be one you appreciate – I won’t say enjoy be aide it just isn’t that kind of a book.

  • I read FEAR a few months ago and liked it a lot. I liked its unsentimentally and its anger.

    • No one could accuse this of being a sentimental take on the war. I just read your review – it was really well done.


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