Sunday, 17 February 2019

THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER by Rebecca West


In this novel a man returns from the first World War unable to remember the last fifteen years of his life, which includes his wife.  It feels like the set up to a romantic comedy.  Oh guys: it is not.  

Chris is 35, and the last thing he remembers is being 20, and madly in love with a working class woman.  He tries to be polite to this stranger his wife, and to pretend to like the 'improvements' he himself made to his family home.  He also insists on seeing his old girlfriend.  Things have not gone well for her:
She was repulsively furred with neglect and poverty, as even a good glove that has dropped behind a bed in a hotel and has lain undisturbed for a day or two is repulsive when the chambermaid retrieves it from the dust and fluff.  
We learn that they were only separated by a misunderstanding, and it becomes clear that he would have been much happier with her than the woman he actually married.  Without his memory, he is overall a much happier man; he has the woman he loves, and he does not remember the war at all.   Then comes the really tough question of whether it is even right that they help him remember - whether they stealing from him fifteen years; or giving him the gift of the life he should have had.  


I won't tell you what they choose; it's a good question for us to think about though.  On my side, if it ever happens to me, please don't hesitate: I'm happy to miss the First World War and the marriage mistake, even if it means missing out on my adulthood.  That has been a dubious delight in any case.
Let's take a moment to give a shout out for west, who was just 24 when she wrote this novel, and sounds a real character.  Enjoy this, on feminism:

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiment that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute
BOOM!

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