20 June 2011

Return of a Soldier, by Rebecca West

(Note: apologies if this entry looks weird. I recently received an iPad as a graduation gift so I'm trying out my new Blogpress app to see if I can post directly from this thing. I'm hoping it will lead to more frequent updates. Though I must say, the whole touchscreen keyboard thing is pretty annoying. I got pretty fast and typing on the iPhone when I still had one, but this is bigger, and is actually a lot more awkward. We shall see.)

This novel reminded me how lovely modernist writing tends to be. The prose is so gorgeous, you could get lost in it for days. "But tonight, there was nothing anywhere but beauty." It's like a warm summer evening in a lush garden. It's a delight to read. Plot wise, however, it's also a really fascinating book, especially from the perspective of questions of identity.

The novel describes a WW1 soldier's return home. I don't want to say too much about the plot, because it's such a pleasure to watch it unfold, but it's hard to discuss what's so fascinating about the book without getting into it at all, and I'm trying to get back into more analytical posts, so basically, if you haven't read the book, you should seriously consider skipping the rest of this entry, getting a copy of the book, and checking back when you're done reading it.

SPOILERS. But not too terribly many.
Basically, the guy has forgotten his current life - including his current wife - and is stuck in a past where he's still in love with someone else. That someone else is coming by to hang out with him while his family tries to figure out how to cope with the situation, cure him, etc. There's an interesting class dynamic involved; the former flame is decidedly lower class, and the current family is pretty rich and fancy. The story is narrated by his sister, who is kind of ambivalent about the situation. So there's the kind of predictable issue of what does it mean to forget part of your life, does it change who you are, etc. There's also the question of what makes a person happy, and what are their obligations towards other people who see part of their life. And then there's the whole World War One and war trauma angle, which is fantastically understated in a really interesting way. I'm not going to say anything else, because you might still reading this, even if you haven't read the book, and I just can't spoil it for you. It's a really wonderful book, definitely recommended.

No comments: