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4.4 out of 5 stars37
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 18 December 2012
Written in 1918, this is a very tender and rather poetic account of the return of Chris, a shell-shocked soldier from World War One to the world of weath and luxury created by his beautiful wife and doting cousin. However, his heart is still on Money Island, with Margaret, his first love. Should he be returned to the real world or be allowed to remain happily living in the past? The story is beautifully written though very much a product of its time both in style and content. The portraits of the three women emerge powerfully. Feminists would find find plenty to chew upon here and some of the attitudes to class and wealth would make even those of the palest pink politics gnash their teeth.
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The book is set in the First World War and written in 1918. It centres around the family living in an old country house – Chris, the soldier of the title; his wife Kitty who is fashionable and obsessed with how things look; and Jenny, Chris’s cousin who has unrequited love for him. Kitty and Jenny start the novel living alone in the house as Chris is at war. They are filled with fear about Chris’s time at the front and they seem to be in limbo as they wait for his return. Into this situation arrives Margaret, a working class woman who the two ladies initially think is trying to con them. Margaret has been contacted by Chris who has returned from the front wounded and, having forgotten his recent past, can only remember a time in his youth when he was in love with Margaret.

This is actually quite a complex novel despite the fact that it is so short. It deals with shell shock and nervous problems, including having Chris treated by a psychoanalyst. It also deals a fair amount with loss and regret – Margaret has lost her beauty and her chances in life with time, Chris and Kitty have lost a small child, Jenny has lost any chance of love with Chris and Chris ends up losing any chance to make a future with Margaret in favour of the vows he has made to Kitty. It’s bittersweet and the whole book seems to suggest that the status quo must be restored irrespective of any other choice or anyone’s deep felt wishes.

Where the book shocks the modern reader is probably not what would have made an impact at the time in which it was written. Jenny is the narrator and her description of Margaret when she first arrives is appalling. She is repelled by the cheapness of her clothing and the fact that it is in poor taste and the fact that Margaret does not have refined looks. Over and over again she mentions Margaret’s large, red and worn hands. In the end Jenny feels that Margaret behaves the best of any character but you do get the impression that this is particularly notable because of her class and the fact that you wouldn’t expect such refinement of character and self-sacrifice from the lower classes. A lot of this is quite painful for the modern reader, possibly because in every other way you recognise these people and their dilemma and identify with them – I wonder if this book was written today whether the ending would be the same ? I think not.

It’s an interesting, if rather dated read, and I enjoyed it. This is the only book by Rebecca West I have ever read but I would be prepared to try others.
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on 31 January 2013
A strange tale that took me a while to get into but once engaged with the text I felt it rip at my heart with furious emotion. I hate the character of Kitty, adore the working class character of Margaret, and left the novel feeling very sorry for the narrator. For the most part the war is an unspoken void in the text, haunting every sentence and then at the end the full horror of WWI crashes down on you like a wave - you have been warned.
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on 23 March 2014
This is a very interesting and well written story about war and social class. One is pulled in initially to the tragic issue of a soldier having suffered shell shock and amnesia from his wounds in the 1st word war. As the story unfolds through the experience of his cousin who lives with him and his wife, another significant character emerges in the person of his first love. This working class woman has been informed that the soldier has been injured and that he wants to see her. It then emerges that he has lost his memory of15 years of his life, has forgotten his wife and longs to be reunited with his lover of his young adulthood.
What is striking in this emotionally turbulent tale is the strength of class attitude from the soldier's women towards his former lover. She is despised for being simply of her class and the soldier's devotion to her is almost disgusting to them.
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on 6 December 2012
I had never read this author before, and faced with its precise twentieth century prose I wasn't sure that this was for me. By the time I had got to the end I was absolutely converted. The story was simple, a soldier returning from the war - probably the first World War, who had been injured in battle and had lost the memory of his last 15 years. He returned home looking for the woman he had loved before, and did not even recognise his wife. Without giving too much away, he was eventually "saved" but at the same time lost. The saving involved heart-wrenching sacrifice. This was a well written, beautifully descriptive novella. It exposed the intensity of human emotion and showed a then hidden cost of war. If you can find this book - read it.
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on 4 August 2004
I read this book in order to prepare for teaching the A2 level English Literature course. Most of the texts we teach focus on the experience of life in the front. I was interested in this text because it focuses on the lives of the women at home. Ideas about what it means to be 'male' are addressed, as is the subject of shellshock. When West wrote this novel in 1919 she was clearly aware of the embarrassment and shame associated with mental health problems: the returning soldier's wife's reaction to his 'illness' is devoid of any sympathy for him; she's totally focused on how it affects her.
There are 3 women in the novel who all love the soldier: they come from differing social backgrounds; West makes much of the snobbery and patronising attitude that existed in the war years. The final irony, though, is that it is the woman from the lower class who can 'cure' the soldier.
It is a short book but still packs an emotional punch. Good for anyone interested in relationships; particularly so for students of English A level who need a quick read but plenty to write about in terms of structure and style.
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on 4 January 2013
A cracking little novel full of intense prose that requires full concentration. The ending is rush and too happy ever after. However interesting to look at love from three women's point of view.
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More of a novella than a novel, and better for it, this is the condensed but lyrical tale of a young man, shell shocked on the Western Front who is brought home to recuperate from a temporary amnesia that has thrown him back to a kinder, gentler place. The story is told through the eyes of his cousin, companion to a wife the soldier cannot remember. It is beautiful, sad, tender and stunning. A gorgeous tale which makes your heart ache as your spirits soar for the glorious prose.
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on 16 April 2013
Book arrived promptly. Intriguing story. Read it twice as it had quite an unusual style. Have recommended book to others.
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A bit dated, but a very evocative and poignant story of four people , their relationship and the complications caused by amnesia. The brittle silly wife, the husband living fixed in time, the ex lover and the onlooker. The reality of truth which has to be faced,and a love lost. A satisfying read.
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