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The Return of the Soldier (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – Jun 1998


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Paperback, Jun 1998
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Product details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; later printing edition (Jun 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014118065X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141180656
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 0.8 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 276,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Rebecca West - highly intelligent, highly gifted, vital, original, combative, formidable and kind - was a great woman (VICTORIA GLENDINNING) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

This is a masterful novel about a shell-shocked, amnesiac soldier returning from WWI to the three women who love him. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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"Ah, don't begin to fuss!" wailed Kitty. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful By "devey2001" on 23 Jan 2004
Format: Paperback
Every now and then I will read a novel that makes me wonder why I don't try to cut down on the other things in my life and dedicate more time to reading. The Return of the Soldier is one such book. It is to be frank a masterpiece which will greatly affect how you look upon the world and reflect on your own attitudes to life and love.
The story is simple but the book is far from a simple story. It tells of a shell shocked soldier Chris who escapes the horrors of Flanders by blotting out the last fifteen years of his life and returning to a passionate love affair of the past. He has no recollection of what has occurred since, of his marriage to the gloriously shallow and vain Kitty, of his having to take on the responsibilities of providing the wealth to allow his family to continue their affluent existence, to furnish Baldry Court with beautiful things, of the death of his father and of his own son.
But the story is not his; it belongs to the three women of his life: Kitty his wife, Jenny his childhood friend who has always loved him, and the now dowdy Margaret whose subsequent hardships in life since he left hers fifteen years ago have taken their toll on her. But more than anything it is the story of class attitudes, of England when a stiff upper lip was the order of the day and when “duty” mattered. A story of the contrasts between those who are not able to do as they wish and those sheltered from the realities of life by having all the comforts of life provided to them. It’s a story about those who have “partaken of the inalienable dignity of a requited love”, of those who have known the love of another and those whose souls have been left bitter by the lack of such.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Katie Stevens on 16 Nov 2010
Format: Paperback
This bittersweet novel has a deceptively simple story which is brought to life through prose which is more like poetry at times; rich and full and evocative without ever being purple or pompous. It is charged with emotion, both amusing and heartbreaking, and I'm green with envy that Rebecca West wrote this when she was only twenty-four. It may be a quick read, but it's a very intense one.

It's not a word I use often, but the writing is just perfect. The snobbery with which Kitty and Jenny greet Margaret is sometimes cruel: 'She was repulsively furred with neglect and poverty, as even a good glove that has dropped down behind a bed in a hotel and has lain undisturbed for a day or two is repulsive when the chambermaid retrieves it from the dust and fluff.' (p. 25) However, it is also funny, reflecting on Kitty and Jenny rather than Margaret. I couldn't help but laugh when Jenny remarks on `her deplorable umbrella, her unpardonable raincoat` (p. 33). Her writing is equally insightful and direct when emotional matters are in focus: 'There was to be a finality about his happiness which usually belongs only to loss and calamity; he was to be as happy as a ring cast into the sea is lost, as a man whose coffin has lain for centuries beneath the sod is dead.' (p. 180)

Rebecca West's use of pronouns is masterful: before Chris returns home having lost all memory of the past fifteen years, Jenny always uses `we' to refer to Kitty and herself. Even though Kitty is his wife and Jenny his cousin, both women seem to occupy the same role in making life happy and comfortable and beautiful for Chris, as they are united in their love for him.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Booklover on 5 Jan 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm 14 but although I struggled with the language, The Return of the Soldierhas to be one of the best books I've read in the last four months. The morals behind the tale are unforgettable and really thought provoking as well. The last page had me almost in tears and I reread it just to ascertain that I had the end correct. I haven't been able to get it out of my head all this past week and I doubt I ever will. It isn't the easier of books but if you concentrate on the storyline, you soon forget the language and are drawn into the tale. I would recommend it for anyone of all ages.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER on 30 Jan 2010
Format: Paperback
Set in 1916, Chris is wounded in France and, shell-shocked, loses his memory. Fifteen years are wiped out and he becomes again the twenty-one year old boy just graduated from university falling in love for the first time, rather than the thirty-six year old man with a wife and responsibilities which he really is. Told through the voice of his devoted cousin, this is a simple and simply-told story which yet is hugely resonent and deeply moving.

There are no literary tricks to the narration, no self-conscious flourishes: and, as readers, we are drawn close inside a detailed and intimate story, that is both emotionally-restrained and feels very true.

The three women - Kitty, the beautiful wife; Jenny, the devoted cousin; Margaret, the lower-class lover - are the focus of the book, and West dissects them and their social places with a scalpel, sharp and accurate.

The Freudian psychology which imbues the end of the story feels a little old-fashioned now, but would have been relatively fresh at the time of writing (1918-19).

Overall this is a much deeper story than appears on the simple surface: the return refers not just to the physical return of Chris, but also his return to his place in the social world of the time and the reassumption of all the responsibilities and privileges that go with that. And his reluctance and stoicism in the face of those is a sad indictment of what is meant (and means?) to be a man.
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