on 24 August 2007
I have studied WWI fiction and nonfiction for a long time. I have read all the classics, both in English and in other languages: Sassoon, Juenger, Lussu, Blunden, Hemingway, Graves, Dorgeles, Manning, etc. I discovered this book casually, just because it was in an exhibition at the Trinity College Library in Dublin. Well, it's simply the best. Powerful, bleak, a real nightmare which however manages to tell it all. It's a stunning book, written with a masterful style, a book that does not hide anything, written with an impressive lack of moralistic restraint, where fear, meanness, horror, madness are described the way they are. O'Flaherty is so sensitive to all the psychological nuances (he was shell-shocked like the protagonist) that he gets closer to later, disinhibited war narratives of W.W.II such as Heller's Catch-22 and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, or to Vietnam war narratives. All in all, I think it's the most impressive account of what war on the Western Front was, and an amazing literary achievement. It's a pity it is so neglected, but no wonder: this is a honestly, declaredly, unashamedly anti-war book, and it shows war for the horrible and revolting and disgraced thing it really is.
on 11 October 2015
I have read endless WW1 narratives, but this relatively short novel has to be the grimmest. It is gloom and doom from beginning to end, though very readable. I have studied WW1 through three academic degrees, yet never heard of O'Flaherty's book until recently so I agree that it is a neglected work. However, the illustration on the book cover is unlikely to attract many readers as it looks like something from an old comic strip, which certainly doesn't do the prose justice