I have never had any inclination to read a book about the army before - the idea of reading about military tactics and the manoeuvres of war holds absolutely no appeal for me at all. However, having seen the author of "An Officer and a Gentlewoman" on the BBC this week, my interest was sufficiently stirred to give this book a try (with some scepticism). My expectations were definitely exceeded! This book is not what I expected at all - it is less a book about the army and more a personal tale of a woman who decided to make a radical life change. Heloise Goodley tells of how she left a corporate job in London to join the armed forces, and recounts her experiences of Officer training at Sandhurst Academy. She thus provides an insight into a historic institution which most of us know nothing about. However, she kindly spares the reader in depth accounts of boring military regulations and complex rifle techniques, and instead focuses on the more interesting oddities and day-to-day petty frustrations of life at Sandhurst. In a lighthearted account she paints a picture of the extreme personalities and extreme (often absurd) rules which governed her world during a year at the Academy. She remains objective enough to ridicule some of the more pointless elements of her training and their applicability to modern day warfare, whilst recognising the immense value of other lessons and challenges she and her contemporaries are forced to endure.
"An Officer and a Gentlewoman" is not a heavy-weight, complex narrative. The stories are lighthearted and told at a quick pace, making it an extremely easy read. In my view, this is a huge positive - the author has taken a potentially dull, dry and unaccessible subject and made it interesting and engaging for civilian readers. Not an easy feat.