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This really is 'up there' with the classic blackly-comic war stories
on 19 January 2014
For me, the best books about war are either deeply tragic or deeply funny. Birdsong, All Quiet on the Western Front, Schindler's List - can move you to tears and leave you feeling the horrors of battle, of victims, of the waste.
On the flip side, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five and now Fobbit all show us the absurdities of war, as well as the atrocities. You feel that you are granted the right to laugh, but it doesn't make the situation itself any less tragic.
Fobbit is great. I really liked Catch-22 and as I was reading, felt this could be called the modern equivalent. We have several narrators, each with their own take on the Iraq conflict. The Fobbit of the title is Gooding, a desk jockey. Fobbits are thus called because, like Hobbits, they keep their heads down in their Hobbit/Fobbit holes in Headquarters, doing paperwork in Forward Operating Base (FOB) and not venturing out into the field, earning condemnation from their battle-hardened fellows. Gooding writes press releases after soldiers are killed. He wants to keep his head down and get back home.
As does Abe Shrinkle - out in the field but a terrible company commander. Shrinkle hoards care packages and is an accident waiting to happen. No respect, no leadership ability.
Other narrators tell their stories, in the field, in the relative safety of the FOB, adding to the picture of barely disguised, organised chaos and PR trickery.
It should be a tragic tale but is frequently laugh-out-loud funny and very well composed. I loved Abrams' witty use of language and character to convey the vivid impression of the Fobbits in their air-conditioned trailers and the 'grunts' out in the field, as well as the piranha-like media constantly after an appetising story of death and destruction.
Definitely should be considered as part of the canon of blackly humorous modern war novels.