The Harrowing Paperback – 18 Jun 2009
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A stunning novel of love, betrayal and redemption set amid the turmoil of the First World War.
About the Author
Robert Dinsdale was born in North Yorkshire in 1982 and studied in Leeds. He now lives and works in London.
Top customer reviews
The narrative uses heightened language which I found entirely appropriate to the time and the story and thought really added to the book. One or two phrases were over-used ("a hailstorm of memories" was very effective the first time, but a bit irritating by the third, for example) but I thought the writing generally excellent. The book has some very clever structural effects - the symmetry between the ends of Parts One and Two, and the reappearance of the phrase "there's been an accident" for example - which aren't just a series of stylistic tricks but are integral to what the author is trying to say.
Unlike some other reviewers, I found the section set in the trenches on the Somme extremely well done. It gave a really vivid view of what it was like to be an individual there and the close-up, messy, personal nature of the fighting and I didn't feel it was in any way a history lesson, nor that I'd read it all before; it seemed new and illuminating to me.
If you're after a fast-paced adventure story, this isn't it. However, it is an intelligent, thoughtful and involving tale with important things to say and I recommend it very warmly.
I'm a big fan, if fan is the right word, of World War 1 and the sociological conditions surrounding it at home and abroad, so this book intrigued me. Would it satiate my perhaps inappropriate lust for all things WW1 rleated? Or would it just be another wishy washy girly tale loosely connected to man's barbarity to man in the trenches?
Thnkfully, as I've now finished the book, I can say with confidence this brilliantly written and gripping book is better than I ever could have imagined.
The plot centres around two brothers, William and Samuel and events that occur between them in the first chapter of the book. I won't spoil it anymore than that, needless to say one attacks the other one then goes off to fight in the war. Closely followed by the other. Ish....
At times, especially at the start of the book, I found the writing a little overly-descriptive, and the frequent referrals to different part of the boys' home town jarred with me at first. However, later in the book you realise the author is painting for us a complex landscape of characters, motives and places all tied together with the town the boys grew up in and the places around it.
Ultimately, I simply couldn't put this book down and I found specifically the writing about the actual conflict itself, the deserters and the atmosphere in the trenches both harrowing (aptly) and gripping.
All in all an excellent book, with an excellent and unique plot. In fact, it's the best tale I've read for a long, long time.....
The basic concept, the setting and some of the writing were brilliant. But the writing can be over-indulgent, making glorious descriptions out of fairly prosaic events. Sometimes less is more. I also found the book slow to read. A faster paced plot might actually have added some tension in a few places.
Finally, the characters are a bit distant. I never really felt I sympathised with or fully understood why the two brothers acted as they did. They didn't seem completely rounded characters - perhaps a scene or two less directly involved with the plot, that illustrated other aspects of them, might have helped.
Harrowing is a good choice of title though. Despite being slow, this is an emotional drama - provided you can get far enough into this book to get caught up in it. It could definitely do with pulling the reader in more convincingly in the early chapters.
As another reviewer has rightly said, there are moments when Dinsdale's poetic prose tips over into the self-indulgent, and the narrative would have had more power by being slightly pared back and restrained : the reiteration of the `screaming' of William's wound, for example; or the constant imagery of monsters and spitting fire which became quite clumsy. At points it reminded me of D.H. Lawrence who also has a tendency to force his style at times.
Of the three sections oddly the second, set in the front lines of the Somme, seemed to pall and drag, lacking pace and a strong drive and it took me a while to pick the book back up at this stage. However the third section compensates and raises the emotional tension urgently.
So in summary I really enjoyed this book and the style in which it is written, despite the sometimes overly-conscious literariness. If you're looking for a fast-paced action story this will disappoint, but for something thoughtful, sensitive and spiritual in a non-religious way this is perfect.
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Everyone should own a copy.
The interpretation of the title 'The Harrowing' will influence how one approaches this book.Read more