Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1918, 80 pages)

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1892 to 1983 London, England) was the only book written during WWI which deals with the war as a subject matter that was written by a woman.  Rebecca West had a very diversified authorial career writing several novels, a number of political essays, and some highly regarded travel books.   She reported on the Nuremberg Trials for The New Yorker.   She was very active in political causes and was a strong advocate of the rights of women.  She grew up in a very cultured and intellectually stimulating environment.   She had a son with H. G. Wells.   (There is a detailed article on her here ).

The Return of the Soldier was West's first novel.   It tells the story of the return of a shell shocked British Captain, Chris Baldry, from the trenches of France during WWI.   It is told from the point of view of one of his female cousins, Jenny.  

As the novel opens we are at the country estate of a cousin by marriage of Jenny.   They seem in a place very remote from the hardships of war but for the fact that her cousin's husband is serving in the British Army in France.   Then they are shocked when a third woman, Margaret, comes to advise them that she has gotten a notice from the war office that Chris has been injured  and is coming home.   Of course they are wondering why Margaret and not his wife got the notice and they know Chris has a romance with her fifteen years ago.   To tell a bit of the plot, Chris has lost fifteen years worth of memories and thinks he is 21 and not 36 and that Margaret is his girlfriend and he has no idea who his wife is supposed to be.  The plot unfolds from here.

The story is not told in a straightforward fashion but as typical of a British novel of the period it jumps back and forth  in time and mirrors in its structure the fragmented memory of Chris.   Even though WWI is hardly mentioned in the novel, it is about its effect on society and the attempts of returning soldiers to fit into society.  Back by Henry Green which I posted on last month is a WWII version of the same theme and Ford Madox Ford's great work  Parade's End deals with the issues of the returning soldier  on a much larger stage.

I am very glad I read this short work and commend it to anyone interested in Modernist Fiction of the Virginia Woolf sort.   The prose style is exquisite.     This book is for sure worth the time it takes to read it and I would like to read more of her work in the future

I am participating in The War Through the Generations reading challenge which is about books on WWI this year and will be including this book as one of my selections.

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

A writer whose name I was aware of, but had never read, for reasons that escape me, sounds like an interesting premise though. Great post thanks.

Mel u said...

Parrish Lantern-this book can be downloaded from Manybooks

Madeleine said...

I love the short stories you bring to our notice. I recently bought "BEST EUROPEAN FICTION 2011-2012" and "PEN O,HENRY PRIZE STORIES 2011"
Those books contain real treasures.

Anna and Serena said...

Thanks for the review. We've got it linked on the reviews page at War through the generations and a snippet of the review will appear on Feb. 23.

Mel u said...

Madeline-I also bought not to long ago The 2011 O Henry collection and have downloaded a sample of the 2011 European fiction selection-I am still thinking on it

Anna and Serana-thanks for hosting this event and all your hard work for the book blog community

Anna and Serena said...

Mel, thanks for the review. But I noticed that you were not on the official signup page, so could you let us know what level you plan to reading 1-3 books, 4-10 books or 11+ books?

Anna and Serena said...

Have you officially signed up for the WWI reading challenge? I haven't seen you on our lists. Just wondering what level we should put you down for: 1-3 books, 4-10 books, or 11+ books?

Just let us know.

Anna and Serena said...

Apparently Anna and I both commented on your blog about not being on the sign up page. LOL Sorry about the double comments.

We're going to post a bit of your review on March 8. Thanks for joining.

Anna and Serena said...

Sorry about the double comments from Anna and myself. Thanks for signing up officially. We'll have a snippet of this review on the main page on March 8.

Thanks for joining us.