13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A riveting account of the Great War deserving more acclaim,
This review is from: Not So Quiet... : Stepdaughters of War (Women & Peace) (Paperback)
This semi-autobiography, moulded in the style of All Quiet on the Western Front (hence the pun on "Quiet" which also connotes the supposed passivity of women during wartime), is a merciless but utterly gripping account of female ambulance drivers on the Western Front. It's a welcome breath of air, because it doesn't give the usual take on the war and it doesn't have the sort of reservations and evasion that even lauded war writers like Sassoon or Graves use. This is non-stop trauma and vitriol, but it's so well written it sucks the reader in from the start. Unlike the whininess of Vera Brittain (proclaimed the "mistress of self-pity" by De Groot) this is by no means a feminist book, but has a real punch to it. It is impossible not to empathise with the narrator, again an often fraught task with the more accredited war writers. "Smithy's" hatred of the war and its dehumanising conditions (both of the soldiers and her fellow drivers) is tinged with obvious signs of war neurosis. Particulalry gripping is her friend "The Bug" succumbing to shellshock and being told that she has exhibited "a disgraceful exhibition of cowardice on the part of an Englishwoman", and the description of driving towards field hospitals in terrible conditions listening to the men in the truck screaming.
Smith intentionally dehumanises the men throughout the book in an attempt to distance herself from their condition and one is left under no illusion that this is one of the only ways to preserve her own sanity. The author's contrast with the heroic claptrap in letters from home is also presented with such force and anger it makes the reader wince with empathy. A grim job that was always sold high, this is a real eye opener both in terms of the female perspective on war and the situations faced by them. Cracking stuff.