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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
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on 3 July 2014
I found this book very hard to get into, it gave me little or no motivation to keep going. The story is of a group of GI’s who survive a firefight in the 2nd Iraq War and are brought home on a PR exercise. The whole story takes place during the super bowl match over a thanksgiving weekend.

In many ways this is just a retelling of Clint Eastwood’s Sands of Iwo Jima. The soldiers look back at the nation they have left and reflect on the differences between where they have been and where they were. In essence the story does not progress any further than that. There exists something of a fathers to son relationship between the sergeant and one of the dead squad members to our protagonist Billy. This is well played out, as well as the sibling relationship between Billy and his elder sister Kathryn. I found the repetitive references to jerking off a bit unnecessary

Huge swathes of the book describe the American football game and the half time events, as well as philosophical waffle. I found myself almost scanning the pages, at times losing myself and having to back track. No surprises at the end either.

This is not a bad book, it is just that it does nothing that is new for me and the writing did not engage.
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on 8 February 2017
Stoked by the prospect of watching a new Ang Lee adaptation just days away and thanks to its curiously scored and edited trailer, hinting at some Narrative within narratives, I snapped up this remarkable source book, an imagined memoir-of-sorts by Ben Fountain-an author I hadn't known about, but what a talent!

Good luck to Mr Lee in bringing this cracker of a satire with all its layers of orgiastic, trenchant verbiage to the screen. Playing out over a single day of a 19 year old just-returned war hero who is being honored along with his squad for a successful shock-and-awe mission in Iraq; as our lone hero drags his heels through the pomp and ceremony of the erected theatre of a Cowboys' Thanksgiving home game complete with a Destiny's Child performance, we the readers get to inhabit the amphitheatre of the "old soul" within him.

His inner monologue, a rigorous and continuous commentary on the misguided state-sponsored war he is a part of and the industrial fantasy-making culture machine that is erected around it, is often interrupted by the grotesquerie that invades his senses: from the pyrotechnics of the circus erected to the overwhelming pangs of lust for a cheerleader he's fallen for to his doting sister's persuasive pleads to withdraw from the military service to the flashbacks of the explosive incident-the reason for his unasked-for celebrity status-where he lost his best mate to his interactions with overfed, over-entertained squealing zombie-humans and punch-drunk-with-their-own self-importance corporate lizards.

There is also a continuous thread of his squad's story being juiced for a Hollywood adaptation that never quite gets off the ground, which brings to fore the book's and the author's concern for the uninvolved millions engaged in this documented, filmed and televised hyper-reality of war, organised sport and propaganda everyday: it has become the new drug that provides a welcome relief from the chaotic, unrewarding and intricate personal realities. It is interesting that this very well articulated, rip-through-every-artifice stance is encased in one giant thought experiment by this talented creator of fiction. He pulls off this young contemplative wartime hero with absolute triumph-with all of Billy's bile spread evenly between the "telling"-his fabulous expositions fashioned into soliloquies-to-self and "showing"- four incidents: a football game, a boy-leaving-home drama, a film deal and a minor love affair that unfold organically with a cast of full-blooded beings I could place and hear.

With a terrific sense of time, place and concern, in one long halftime, Fountain manages to give us a hero for the noughties generation, a generation that finds willingly and unwillingly gorging on increasing post-truth scoops of farcical politics, entertainment-on-tap, derivative culture products and virtual realities.
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on 30 December 2015
Billy is a hero. Like Captain America he has (temporarily) served his time and is now selling war bonds – or at least pushing the modern equivalent of flying the flag – but who for exactly? Not the people wining and dining him and the rest of the squad – they are out for all they can get at the soldiers’ expense. And what about the man who is trying to sell their story of fight and survival to tinsel town – where do his loyalties lie (if not, ultimately, to himself). And just what is this America that Billy is fighting for? Waiting for his half-time appearance at an American Football stadium while stuck in a schedule beyond his control, meeting people whose conflicting opinions and lack of any real-life knowledge of what he’s been through, Billy takes a distant view, the words of those that want to touch him, utilise him, or use him as a sounding board becoming more and more irrelevant as time creeps nearer to his next tour of duty.
Beautifully written, with non-standard page layouts and a steady paced built towards a final more honest than most of the secondary characters in this story, this book is bound to draw comparisons with Catch 22. It has that same claustrophobic atmosphere, the same feeling of inert helplessness as, like an insect stuck in crystallising amber, Billy is drawn towards a fate he can viscerally feel if not escape.
This must be the most surprising book I’ve read in half a year. That it was written on this topic, that it expresses so well the dichotomy of Billy’s world and those that want a second hand touch of glamour from it, and that the author had the bravery to express Billy’s experiences in the very lay-out of the written page is to be applauded as well as appreciated. Shorn of sentimentality, it’s powerful stuff.
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on 23 July 2014
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a modern day anti war & anti western-American fast food-like/hedonistic/Insatiable consumer culture document. we meet the once in a life time war hero kid (19 year old Billy), his heroism is acknowledged only due to the fact that his Bravo company's engagement in Iraq was filmed and broadcast on Fox network. meanwhile, the insatiable cliche & slogan repeating American society (portrayed through people that Billy meets) is trying to reward the Bravos through an all american hero home R&R welcoming, which climaxes with hospitality at the 2011 Super-Bowl at Dallas.

Throughout the event Billy is accommodating his hosts need to express American patriotism, through slogan talking and underlined hypocrisy, while struggling with his own (and sister's pressure) fear of returning to the front line for their second tour of Iraq.

While this is a superb critical document of the American cultural hegemony, it is also a bit excruciating. Billy's flashbacks are well written as is his inner world of dilemma, while the on-scene football stadium decoration & events are getting weary at some point.

All in all a very good book by Ben Fountain, though not an easy read.
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on 23 September 2017
This is a great book, a book that challenges the comfortable assumptions about war and those who fight it. It's a million miles removed from the patriotic Rambo books but still portrays a group of heroes. Their struggle to relate to the people they are protecting illustrates the disconnect between the regular soldier and those who claim to support them. The prose is sharp, the pace is brisk and I didn't want the story to end.
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on 4 January 2015
An exceptionally good read - quite the most enjoyable book I've read for several months.

That said, it seems only sensible to point out that this is a Marmite book. If you're unfamiliar with or irritated by American colloquialisms, if you dislike bad language and swearing, if you think the war in Iraq was a good thing and if you dislike or know nothing at all about American football, this book may not be for you. However, the language and swearing isn't that bad and it's never gratuitous. And it's possible you could enjoy the book without knowing anything about American football and its traditions.

On the other hand, if you know and like America, if you have contempt for George W Bush and the political thugs who embroiled the US in an unwinnable war for highly dubious reasons, if you enjoy watching the Super Bowl and if you enjoyed Tom Wolfe's "A Man in Full", there's every chance you will love Ben Fountain's book about Billy Lynn and Bravo squad as much as I did.

This is a satire and it's clever and very funny. Seldom laugh-out-loud funny, but you'll find yourself grinning most of the time. The dialogue is as good as any I've encountered in a book. Never a false note, crystal clear and true. And it's the dialogue that produces most of the humour. Sometimes satire becomes tedious, when the author starts preaching or laying it on too thick. In this book, the satire is subtle and gentle and Fountain never (in my opinion) loses his sense of proportion. At times the humour and style reminded me of Tom Wolfe, but this is every bit as good as his stuff and one third of the length. It's beautifully written, too.

If you decide to read it, I hope you get as much fun and pleasure from it as I did.
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on 19 August 2012
I bought this as an impulse Kindle buy, from an Amazon 'new releases' list. It was a shot in the dark and I struck gold. I really really enjoyed the writing. It is written from the perspective of a US army corps teenager, who has just got back from Iraq, and isn't quite sure about the rights and wrongs of the violence he has seen and been a part of. Billy Lynn has been sent on a 'Victory Tour' by a Government eager to shore up its support, the climax of which is to an American Football match, in Texas, replete with cheerleaders, capitalists, fawning patriotic fans, and aggressive roadies. The group are accompanied by a guy who is trying to cut them a film deal on the back of their 'patriotic' battle where they had mown down a number of Iraqis. Billy lusts after one of the cheerleaders, is on a permanent quest for Advil to deal with his hangover, and is dodging texts from his earnest sister, encouraging him to defect from the army. All this in the gap before they return to their tour of Iraq. I found it a biting satire of the nexus between the American right, Christianity, capitalism, and the 'good-evil' useless depiction of the Iraq war. It was funny, heartrending, and non-preachy, but left me clear that the cavern between the frontline soldiers, and the politicians and the rich in the US, is huge and the bravado-like approach to killing 'Al-Quaeda' doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense if you're the one with your finger on the trigger in the desert.
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on 17 January 2018
A thoughtful and thought provoking view of the Iraq conflict. Very well written, with great use of language.

A little monotonous at times which lost it a star, but once I pushed on past what seemed like a endless section of getting lost in a stadium, the book came back into life and was thoroughly enjoyable from many perspectives
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on 24 October 2014
The book is set on one day, and centers around one man and his fellow squaddies who happened to be filmed by a TV news crew doing their job in Iraq. Labeled "heros" by the press, they struggle to come to terms with the loss and strain of living up to the hype. This is a multi-stranded story line which conflicts every so often leading to decisions and conflict (both personal and with the public). As much a view of American culture and politics as a group of young army lads spending a day at the football. Well written and well worth the read.
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on 24 May 2015
This is a very compelling book written with a Salingeresque honesty in the narrative which makes you believe in the characters. I'm not interested in war books or hero stories so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.Fantastic observation and just beautifully written, and although it's a story about soldiers and war it is more about how we treat others, how people bond and become outsiders. Not easy to explain, but very interesting to read. I would look for more books by Ben Fountain, he can write.
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