Isn’t the internet a wonderful tool? Punch that quote into Google and you find it attributed to numerous writers (Ernest Hemmingway, Michael Crichton – wtf? – Gerhart Hauptmann and more), maybe one day it will be attributed to me.
I started this blog back in July last year and since that time I have reviewed every book I have read and was proud to say that I had finished all 36 of them. That was until now. Even before I opened this tome I was a little daunted, another Vietnam story, over 700 pages, “Epic International Bestseller” sticker on the cover, a format in the style of those revolving book stands in airport newsagents (ie. Something to read whilst you’re bored out of your wits for 24 hours and something you won’t mind leaving in the back of the seat in front when you’re done). Not that I’m at all swayed by such things…..
Well I was in for a shock - "International Bestseller" doesn't mean much to me, as we know Dan Brown sells millions - this is tedious hard work. I did receive a chuckle the other day from a work colleague when I described this as “Dickens does Vietnam”:
By the next morning a full storm was hurling itself against the hill. The platoon moved in slow motion all day, buffeted by the wind, hampered by cold hands that made grasping E-tools and knives even more difficult than normal. It seemed cruelly unnecessary to Mellas to have to return to the backbreaking work of digging and chopping just when they had reached the point where they could start working on their own living quarters. Yet they dug and chopped, finding meaning of their actions within the small prosaic tasks, casting from their minds the larger questions that would only lead them to despair.
Please!!! Numerous characters who can’t even remember each other (so how am I meant to?), let alone care for each other (how am I meant to?), long drawn out passages that actually say little and a plot which tells me war is futile and higher ranked military staff don’t know what they’re doing. Thanks for that – I don’t need 700 pages of it.
Written in vivid detail (there is a 34 page glossary) by a Rhodes scholar who was a highly decorated ex-Marine, this is not your average war story. It is also not your average literary novel (hence my issues). The part that I got through dealt mainly with a character called Mellas (who I assume will die or else why the futility of it all) who is not really cut out to lead his hardened, racist, disenchanted men…..sound a bit like a few Vietnam war movies you’ve seen? Well you could watch “Full Metal Jacket” followed by “The Thin Red Line” back to back in less than five hours, and you’d still be only 20% of your way through this novel in the same time.
I admit my comments may be considered a tad harsh, however I got to the point where I hadn’t read a page for over three days as I wasn’t enjoying it – that’s when I decided to put this down and finally said “no more” – good grief, I was only 151 pages in. There’s nothing offensive about this novel, it’s not badly written and the settings are real, the horrors and monotony of war even more so – but to be honest, it is just not my cup of tea.
If this wins the IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize for 2012 I will go back and finish it, otherwise it will sit on my shelf gathering dust and end up for sale by my kids on some e-bay style site long after my demise.
I’ll be posting a review of Tim Pears’ “Landed” in the coming days as I finished that one yesterday, sorry for the delay in reviews, it just took me a while to get this one onto a page…..