This book brings home the horror and senselessness of the war to end all wars, WWI, with brutal clarity and exquisite prose. As the story opens we meet a young man, Tristan, who is about to be inducted into the British Army. He is sent to basic training and it was just as horrible as I thought it would be. The drill Sargent is a sadistic monster and his two seconds are as least as bad. While in basic training Tristan forms a friendship with Will. There are twenty young men, from 17 to 21, in the unit. Only two will come back from the fields of France, Tristan being one of them. There is a man who has applied to the review board for the status of a consciousness objector and the Sargent torments him at every opportunity.
Tristan is gay. I kind of sensed this when we learn that his father, who runs a butcher shop, beats him terribly at age 16 for something we never quite learn about. The Absolutist treatment of the father as a butcher is a foreshadowing of his treatment by a much greater butcher, the authority of the state. Some may feel that Boyne is a little heavy handed at times but it can be excused in this old fashioned novel of character. I saw coming, as will most others, the romantic encounter between Tristan and his soldier friend but it is very well done and there is nothing explicit. It felt like honest fumbling passion by two young men knowing they are probably being sent out to die to help settle what is nearly a family fight as all the royal figures of Europe are related through Queen Victoria. WWI was among the more senseless wars of the 20th century.
The novel has two plot streams. One of them is set during the war era and other begins shortly after the war when Tristan goes to see the sister of his friend. It continues on for many years while Tristan becomes a well known novelist and both he and the sister grow old but keep in touch.
There ares some terrible scenes in this novel, not all of them during the war. Boyne kept me interesting and wanting to see what would happen next. I enjoyed this novel and think but will also.
In the interest of full disclosure I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher.