Saturday, 22 November 2014

HER PRIVATES WE by Frederick Manning

This is a novel of the First World War written by a veteran of it. I hate to say it, as it seems disrespectful, but it is deeply dull. I guess it shows that simply having lived through something does not give you the ability to explain it.

HER PRIVATES WE tells the story of a man named Bourne who is in the front lines. Because this is a British novel, the main narrative tension (other than that of being randomly killed) is around . . . wait for it . . . class. Apparently he is of a slightly higher class than the other privates, and thus should be in a higher military rank. I think you must have to be British to find this compelling.

The book is also extraordinarily dated. Here's a sample:
"In the shuddering revulsion from death one turns instinctively to love as an act which seems to affirm the completeness of being. In the trenches, the sense of this privation vanished; but it pressed on men whenever they moved back again to the borders of civilised life, which is after all only the organisation of man's appetites, for food or for women, the two fundamental necessities of nature"

Ladies, that's giving it to us more frankly than we usually hear it.

The book ends abruptly, mid-narrative arc, with Bourne's death. It is quite random, with no literary foreshadowing, no build-up, no resolution and no meaning, and he is quickly forgotten by his lower class colleagues. In some ways this was the most interesting part of the book, where the author abandoned the conventions of literature for a taste of real life / real death.

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