This is an extraordinary book written with an immediacy and an energy sometimes verging on incomprehensibility, but that merely adds to its force. The adolescent rawness, the visceral desire to fight, the sexual charge of battle, observed with ironic detachment and emotional sensitivity. The dichotomy between the sophisticated Oxbridge educated urbanite telling the story and the primitive rites in which he is involved make for something both touching and deeply moving. Comparison with Tolstoy's Sebastopol Sketches or Sajer's Forgotten Soldier are not out of place: this is war for the iPod generation, but the fundamentals remain unchanged. The absurdity, the frustration, the nostalgia, the excitement, the bravery, the brutality. And the perhaps unbridgeable chasm between those who were there, and the uncomprehending others, us, the people for whom the fighting is an abstract, as during the First World War London's social round continued undisturbed by the death of a generation across the Channel. Hennessey mentions in passing his own visits to a psychiatrist. One can only speculate how others, less insightful, less emotionally well equipped, might be coping with civilian life.
But if the book deals with the basics of the human condition, it is also incredibly, raucously, funny. Hennessey makes a couple of references to Evelyn Waugh: he has learnt well. He is also ready, touchingly, to acknowledge his own vulnerability: Gilly, the young guardsman, gravely injured but still anxious that his wounds should appear sufficiently heroic to impress the readers of FHM, has him close to tears.
This is a compelling picture of war beyond the post-heroic, the technological, told with astonishing honesty by a man who, in his 25 years, had been unfortunate, or fortunate, enough to experience greater extremes than most would encounter in several life times. One can only stand in awe.