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The Letter Bearer [Hardcover]

Robert Allison
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
RRP: £12.99
Price: £12.08 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 Mar 2014
Short-listed for the 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize for New Writing

One of Ali Smith's favourite three debut novels of the year

The Rider has no memory of who he is, or how he came to be lying - dying - in the brutal heat of the North African desert. Rescued by a band of deserters, the Rider begins to piece together his identity, based on shards of recollection and the letters in his post bag. The Letter Bearer is unlike any other novel of World War Two. It asks profound questions about trauma, warfare and the experience of desertion. This gripping story asks us to consider how men build hope when they have nothing left - not even a name.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (6 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847088236
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847088239
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 119,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'This is a tremendous second world war novel. With thickets of intense, opaque prose and some striking, hallucinatory descriptions of the desert... Allison writes powerfully - often thrillingly - about the nitty-gritty of conflict. A finely crafted debut' --Financial Times

'Allison's debut is a beautifully written investigation into alienation, guilt and the will to survive. The desert is a character itself, brilliantly alive and vividly depicted. This is a gripping exploration of one man's travails - and through him, those of millions other men trapped in the terrible mechanism of war' --Independent

'An excellent and elegant novel written with patience and authority… Alison succeeds by keeping the dialogue terse, the emotional range narrow, and the prose consistent and anchored to realism… this is what makes a compelling novel' --Chris Cleave, chair of the Desmond Elliott Prize judges

'Allison's debut takes its readers into the dark heart of war... Haunting, poignant and delivered with an unerring eye for detail. The literature of war is as old as war itself and this harrowing novel is a fine addition to it' **** --Sunday Telegraph

'Allison's debut takes its readers into the dark heart of war... Haunting, poignant and delivered with an unerring eye for detail. The literature of war is as old as war itself and this harrowing novel is a fine addition to it' **** --Sunday Telegraph

'Robert Allison's debut is an unusual and ambitious work, one that offers a new perspective on the traditional war novel' --Irish Examiner

'This is an artfully crafted book with passages of action and punchy dialogue interspersed with metaphysical ruminative reflections that recall Albert Camus' --'Book of the Week', Telegraph and Argus

About the Author

ROBERT ALLISON has been a theatre director, a film and music reviewer and a copy-editor. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read 10 Mar 2014
By Bunny
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a strong, thought-provoking novel that is more about the psychological consequences of combat rather than battle itself. Dealing with a small group of allied soldiers in North Africa during WW2, it's a convincing portrait of men who have been pushed beyond their limits but who still retain the survival instinct. Though the main characters are deserters I felt great empathy for them and the journey they take across the Libyan desert is a harsh but fascinating one. This is an absorbing and exciting read which I didn't want to end and couldn't get out of my mind for a long time afterwards.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By James
I picked this up after reading the rave review in The Financial Times - the comparisons to The English Patient and classic war film got me interested. I have to say I devoured it - it's something new in war time fiction and definitely worth a look.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant First Novel 17 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Set in the North African desert during World War 2, a soldier wakes after a mine has blown him from his motorcycle, leaving him with life-threatening injuries and no memory of his name or rank. With his tags and insignia stolen by desert natives the only clues he has to his past are in the satchel of letters he was carrying.

Allison has ventured into rarely explored fictional territory here, touching on the themes of survival under extreme conditions, cowardice, desertion, and the importance of identity. The novel succeeds on all of the levels it explores due to a tightly structured narrative and intelligent and invigorating prose. It's refreshing to see a novel that has been so carefully and finely crafted by an author confident in his command of the language and his ability to paint a vivid and emotional landscape. Part mystery and part an exploration of war and of men that displace themselves from the horrors of combat both physically and mentally, The Letter Bearer stands out as an exceptional debut from an author to watch out for. Highly recommended!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Without a warning, almost real-time, I was ushered to witness the aftermath of a bomb explosion and its most redeemable feature it had left behind – a survivor!
Here was a man with no memory and no idea of his name, yet miraculously alive and carrying stubbornly a bag full of thoughts of dying soldiers; men who had sent their love and last goodbyes to their cherished ones in letters.
Painful, intriguing stuff.

Robert Allison already had me on page one and I gladly embarked on the journey with the Rider, the letter bearer, but he had also managed to fool me into thinking I was to read the usual war chronicles convoluted with fond memories of green-gardened Home County barbecues and iced G and T.
True, perhaps, at times, but not quite.
Ever the sneaky fellow, Mr. Allison used his cunning and beautiful prose to seduce me into devouring the next few gripping pages, before hurling me onto the vastness of the North African desert and made me look around my room and doubt if I was really sitting in the comfort of my own sofa.

Note: Some very few writers can and have done that to me numerous times, and without necessarily beginning to hate them with passion, I have accepted they are very good at what they do.

So anyway, there I was left to the nothingness that barren land and cloudless skies provide, bar for the few British army deserters who save the rider. From there on, I slowed down and reflected while paying real attention to the manner in which men battle their regrets in anger here.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Letter Bearer 24 Aug 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is set in Africa in World War 2 an area of history I don't often delve into. The theme was different and I thought I'd give the book a go. An interesting concept of a man who had amnesia and was found by the roadside and nursed by deserters in the desert. The constant question as to the identity of the soldier found with a bag of soldiers letters ever present in the back of your mind. It covered life in the desert well and the conflicts between the characters held the book together. The group attempt to find solitude in the desert and live out their existence whilst all around them the war continued. This is compounded by the fact they are toting along an Italian prisoner who is a constant reminder of their forgotten obligations as soldiers. The escape across the desert, the tank journey and shoot out with a group of Italian soldiers to the final act of separation of the rider and the group and his capture by German forces and subsequent incarceration by the Berbers takes you on a journey of historical interest. All the while you receive snippets of info as clues to the identity of the rider. At times the book drifts into complex thought processes of the rider but it pulls you back. Give it a go you will be pleasantly surprised.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Interesting story but rather unconvincingly executed for me
The author obviously has strong knowledge of the topography of North Africa and has been told about the inside of a tank but seems to have no understanding of the scale of the physical tasks set for his character or how people react under extreme duress. In real life the story would have ended after very few pages indeed.
This seemed in parts to be a pastiche of bits from rather silly war movies.The military and physical details just did not ring true and this kept me from becoming particularly involved. It would have benefitted from being either less detailed and figurative or just more accurate.
If you are interested in/have served with the military this might be one to avoid. If you have no knowledge or experience at all of what he describes this is probably rather more convincing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars "Ring Ring"
Hard to put down and the only time i had to read this was at 2am every morning... a lovely story and guessing game throughout, engaging and tough. Another good read.
Published 3 days ago by Herbert Lom
4.0 out of 5 stars If you like an intelligent read ... get this book!
A touch of 'The English Patient' about this book but without the romance! Without giving too much away - the story initially begins as one of physical endurance but it quickly... Read more
Published 23 days ago by Memecat
3.0 out of 5 stars OK I suppose
Interesting navel gazing. Not sure it all makes sense but the author clearly had a games plan.

I must be too obvious a reader as I expected more answers - it's all there... Read more
Published 1 month ago by S. Heptonstall
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
a well written and absorbing book
Published 1 month ago by guinness22
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by David Ayres
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
better than I thought it would be but would have liked a better ending
Published 2 months ago by Wendy
3.0 out of 5 stars A talented author... needs a bit more self discipline. I'll try...
This book "didn't quite make it" for me. The concept of the plot was excellent and the diverse characters of the individuals were brilliantly portrayed. Read more
Published 3 months ago by para3drop
5.0 out of 5 stars A bleak but riveting read.
well written book. some very challenging moral issues and a meditation on the nature of bravery, cowardice, and survival in wartime. difficult to put down. Read more
Published 4 months ago by N Conway
1.0 out of 5 stars not for meee
Just did not enjoy. In fact did not finish. All I have to say. Nothing else to say. No no.
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars WWII - North Africa - 1943
`The Letter Bearer' is found badly injured laying beside his wrecked motorcycle. He has no memory and he has been stripped of all identification. Read more
Published 4 months ago by little lady blue
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