Rating: 5 stars
Back in 2014, I thought I would try to read a novel set in the Great War (1914-1918) for each full year of that war’s centenary. My only exposure to such literature previously was Sebastian Faulks’s ridiculously romanticised and overblown novel Birdsong. That is a book that makes me incredibly angry and it mystifies me why other readers love it so much.
I decided to read All Quiet on the Western Front to get some perspective in the tub-thumping rolling centenary of WW1. Both my grandfathers fought in that war. I never knew either of them, but my parents told me that neither would speak of what they had experienced. I studied the war at secondary school. It made no sense to me. All Quiet On The Western Front seems to me to make the most sense as is possible of that senseless war. I understand a bit better what Jim and Herbert, my grandfathers, went through and how that experience would make them unable to talk about it with people who hadn’t lived through it. Remarque’s book is important for that reason.
The lack of sentimentality, the sense of futility, the horror of an entire generation of young men lost was well rendered by Remarque, who was conscripted at the age of 18. The coolness of the prose, the understated style, all adds to the grimness of daily life in the trenches. It is a monument to those who died on both sides and a warning against glorifying war.
Next on the list are Pat Barker’s books and Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End.