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Nineteen Twenty-One [Paperback]

Adam Thorpe
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 May 2005
It is the freakishly hot, drought summer of 1921; dust storms in London, parched and cracking earth, autumn tints in July. Holed up in a cottage in the Chilterns, a young writer strives to write the first great novel of the War, impelled by his own suffering. Outward events and inner crises deflect him from his purpose, and love intervenes in the form of two very different women. A visit to the hallucinatory wreckage of post-war Flanders brings strange repercussions in its wake. Everyone is in some way damaged by the terrible years of the war; in what sense can art be made out of such horror? Adam Thorpe's novel seeks to touch the marrow of this jazz and death-haunted period, which was ironically the most excitingly creative period of the last century. In a language deeply soaked in the time and by means of a beguiling story which gradually haunts its own process, Nineteen Twenty-One vividly recreates the year in which The Waste Land was written, as well as offering a bright mirror to the inner and outer complexities of our own troubled times.

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Promotional Re-issue edition (5 May 2005)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0099483483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099483489
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 11 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 748,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Publisher

ONE OF TWELVE TITLES IN VINTAGE'S A FORMAT WAR PROMOTIONA twenties love story and his most commercial novel since Ulverton.

From the Back Cover

In a crumbling Chiltern cottage during the drought summer of 1921, young Joseph Monrow, having missed the trenches 'by a whisker', struggles to write the first great novel of the war. On a strange, revelatory tour of the killing fields of Flanders, still being cleared of their lethal junk, two very different women distract him. The demands of love and desire both help and hinder his purpose - and truth, he learns, is sometimes too horrific for art.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, set in the aftermath of WW1. 18 July 2001
This is a truly great book - rich in detail, ambitious in scope, and thoroughly researched, it gets right under the skin of the aftermath of WW1.
The protagonist, Joseph Monrow, is an all-too-human veteran of the war - one of its many victims, despite having never quite made it to the front. His attempt to write the great anti-war novel is plagued by doubts - is he up to the task? Are his motives pure? He is full of self-loathing, aware of his own weakness and failures; yet his honesty keeps us on his side.
Perhaps the finest scenes in the book are the descriptions of Flanders after the war - a vision of the Wasteland. The clear-up operation, which seems to be grinding on forever, is claiming its own victims - the poor Chinese and Indian labourers who've been drafted in, many being killed by left-over shells; the prostitutes who service the transient servicemen; the locals who've turned to making 'souvenirs' out of bullet and shell cases for the visiting tourists (sorry, mourners).
There is a theme of doubles throughout; Joseph is shadowed by his lookalike, Hubert Rail. Whilst Joseph's response to the war is an idealistic pacifism, Hubert's is a nihilistic cynicism and decadence. Likewise the two key women in the book shadow each other - Tilly Laine, who deals with her brother's death through a Christian belief in noble sacrifice; and Marda, the German widow who feels only sadness and loss, yet seems to have an almost pagan belief in fertility and renewal. Joseph is, of course, torn between the two women.
Late in the book is a marvelous scene where Joseph talks to a blinded ex-officer who is organ-grinding near the cenotaph. Joseph tells him how people take off their hats, even when passing the monument on buses. The blind man wants to know what the memorial says on it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly original take on WW1 6 Oct 2005
By A Customer
This is a superbly FRESH take on the Great War carnage, and I wonder whether the previous, weirdly vicious reviewer who gave it one star has actually read the book. Joseph is not a 'public school officer' but an ordinary grammar-school private; he stays not in a 'twee cottage' but in a mouldy, 'urinous', tumbledown place in an unattractive village whose chief glory is its garage - hardly 'pastoral'!! There is no 'mud' in Flanders because the action takes place during the drought summer of 1921 and the earth is hard and dry; and if the hero's interested in Freud it's because Freudianism was already well-established among the writing/artist fraternity by then. This book destroys all the 'Birdsong' cliches, while the hero, Joseph Monrow, is a brilliant portrayal of a very young, confused, but sensitive would-be writer living in a shattered time... not so different, after all, from our own! Even as a Belgian, I was not aware either of the clean-up operation and the use of colonial soldiers for the dangerous jobs, nor of the early 'package tours' for mourners to Flanders: this is an aspect of the war that is never talked about. I feel Thorpe's book has educated, entertained and enlightened me.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
To regard Adam Thorpe's "Nineteen Twenty-One" as a novel about the Great War (or even its aftermath) as many of its critics and indeed its advocates do is, I think, rather to miss its point. Certainly, any novel set in England in 1921 will feature and be coloured by the horrific events that left so much of Europe physically scarred and mentally traumatised for the best part of a generation. Despite the ever-present references to the War and its after-effects, however, the true focus of this book, to my mind, is the personal development of its central character, Joseph Monrow, an intelligent, well-educated, yet essentially ordinary young man, struggling to come to terms with the world in which he finds himself. Through reasons of conscience and various personal weaknesses but mostly as a result of pure accidents of timing Joseph misses active service in the trenches by a mere whisker. His subsequent struggles to resolve the conflicting emotions resulting from these circumstances naturally figure prominently in the story. But these are merely part of larger series of struggles, much as the Europe of 1921 is merely the backdrop against which a more personal and intimate drama unfolds.
In essence, Joseph's struggle is no different from the struggle of anyone in their late teens or early twenties, who, upon leaving the comfort and shelter of the family home find that the world is a big and frightening (to say nothing of complex and puzzling) place. Joseph's struggles are, in fact, the struggles faced by everyone trying to find their place in and make their mark upon the world. Indeed, his struggles are the struggles of all people of all times.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful haunting book. 4 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This is a marvellous book, written by an astonishingly talented writer. It will haunt you long after you put it down. I love the wistfulness, humanity and sheer beauty in his writing. It deserves to be read. I highly recommend it.
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