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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 21 March 2001
The theme of this novel is friendship, a friendship between two English soldiers, set against a background of the atrocities of the battlefield during the First World War.
John Hilliard, a young officer, returns to his battalion in France, after a period of sick leave in England. In the mean time a new officer has arrived. It's David Barton, 21 years old and slightly younger that Hilliard.
Hilliard, who is rather stiff and reserved and has been lonely all his life, feels that he is changing under the influence of the open, easy-going and cheerful Barton, who can express his feelings so easily.
The great merit of this book is that Susan Hill shows us what it means to people to be intimate friends, to share feelings and to be happy in each other's company. Under normal circumstances this friendship might never have developed to such an extent. In this war it could.
The nightmare world of the front line trenches is depicted so vividly, that we realize that this war was not only terrible, but also senseless; it only led to enormous loss of lives.
A wonderful story - sad and moving.
For further reading I recommend "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1929) by E.M. Remarque. It's a beautifully written and very moving story of German trench soldiers in WWI.It's the best anti-war novel I've ever read and has become world-famous.
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on 23 May 2006
Strange Meeting is the story of two men meeting whilst serving together in WW1. It is a gently-paced, completely absorbing tale, with characters that draw you in as it progresses. It is one of the most beautiful and haunting books I have ever read - I first came across it at school, and have never forgotten it. Together with the Ghost Road trilogy by Pat Barker, this book is a remarkable fictional representation (both written by women) of the horrors of the trenches, but also the simple joys of friendship that can be discovered at the same time.
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on 24 November 2002
Please, please do not dismiss this book as boring. Once I had engaged with the characters (which happened practically before I'd picked up the book) then I couldn't bear to miss a single word because each one gave insight into them. It was never boring. Susan Hill is an outstanding writer and captured this friendship (the 'strange meeting') and the characters of John and David perfectly (is this echoing the inseparable David and Jonathon from the Bible?)
If you think you would like to read this but can't really get into it the first time round, leave it. Wait till you want to. (I had been 'meaning to read it' for a couple of years but never really really wanted to.) I didn't pick it up again until the other day when for some reason I just wanted to read it, and then I was so glad I had: it's one of the best books I've ever read (much, much better than the Pat Barker trilogy, although they are good in themselves).
I don't normally write 'rave' reviews but this book is special. Read it.
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on 9 February 2010
Such an absolutely beautiful story, and - as Susan Hill herself notes - not only about war, but, perhaps more importantly, about love.

There are so many wonderful things to say about Strange Meeting. While it is a relatively short story, no other novel has left such an impact on me, on several levels, as Strange Meeting has.

Taking place during the First World War, it deals with subjects such as the attitudes of the home front, estrangement, the carnage of war and the psychological impact that war has on a person taking part in it. Of great success is its rather subdued description of the war itself, often leaving it up to the reader to imagine the scenes of horror that its characters witness through observing the main characters' reactions to it all.

The consequences that war has on the mind is explored through Lieutenant Hilliard and Second Lieutenant Barton, as they gradually come to know each other and themselves better. At times, the war functions as a backdrop, as the growing intimacy between the two central characters is explored and evolved in a realistic and believable way, their rather ambiguous relationship adding emotion and a touch of innocence to a horror-filled world that seems otherwise devoid of love.

All in all, the novel proceeds at a fairly slow pace, which functions well as it allows the central relationship to build up gradually, while a build up of tension, due to the tedious work in the trenches and the knowledge of an inevitable attack, also occurs.

The language itself is as beautiful as the story. Some of the sentences and paragraphs have stayed with me ever since I first read the book, but it is the story itself, which, in the end, is the most haunting thing of all; knowledge of the fact that, even though it is fiction, it has its base in reality, serves only to intensify, and the events that occur, the feelings that evolve, might easily have been experienced by some other young men so many years ago during those harrowing years in the trenches.

Absolutely beautiful.
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on 5 July 2006
A beautiful and intense novel. John Hilliard is distant and repressed, swallowing words and following orders. Always the glacial outsider he meets David Barton who's open, friendly and warm, full of stories and family and smiles. Their relationship is so natural, not contrived, just a gradual understanding, a slow clarification. Of course there's the senseless horrors (shockingly pointless), the rats and corpses and mud and tradegy. But this is essentially a love story. An eloquent expression of the gay experience, but much more than that too. Spare, poetic and wonderfully lucid, the tears will come. Utterly transcendent.
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on 22 April 2007
I read this in year 11 (please dont be put off in any way by my age) at school and was completely blown away by it. Seriously-you HAVE to read this. The relationship is so emotional that you will find it difficult to put the book down. I wouldn't say this about any random book. The ending is so sad i cried for an hour.

DONT let this put you off-you HAVE TO READ IT!

My favorite WW1 book (so far...!)
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on 26 October 2014
A book of this brilliance is a rare find. The careful words and endless descriptions of real scenes that would have been witnessed in World War One is truly compelling and written with such care and devotion to ensure that what was written, was, of course, her finest work as Hill took on a challenge that many have failed too or half-heatedly achieved. Every page is full of meaning and power and her opinion on the soldiers and their brave and heroic lives is clear, in my opinion, in every possible chance that she has. Not only would I recommend this to others, I would recommend it to my future children and family, who have themselves experienced war. After explaining this to my Grand-Father and reading him short snippets on my weekly journeys to his house, he has himself been able to back Susan's description with his own memories of WW2 and those of his Father's and Grand-Father who fought in WW1, with such valour and courage. I thank Susan Hill for this book, as it has put my mind at ease to think that others out there still remember the service that these soldiers did for us, who died to provide the future generation with a chance to live in peace and tranqulity, and it is so pleasant to know they are still thought about and idolized. We owe them our lives.
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on 18 October 2014
Susan Hill's writing is masterly, and, therefore, she can draw the reader along, even if the subject-matter makes one feel one wants to drag one's feet! The First World War is not a pretty or comfortable subject, but Hill creates compelling scenes, and beguiling ones, and the story of two men meeting and becoming friends unfolds. The depth of the friendship, and the nature of it, is handled delicately, as it creeps up on them, and on the reader. As one man and his family become the salvation and future of the other, we glimpse a different world, which was itself divided into the worlds of home and of war. It was a world where those at home were no more prepared to understand and accept what was really going on 'at the front', than it was prepared to entertain the idea of relationships outside of what it designated 'the norm'.
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This is a short novel, easily read in a couple of hours, but one where the number of pages belies the depth of anguish and emotion which is contained within it. Set during the first years of the Western Front, this brings together all the squalor, the hardship, the antiquated tactics and the almost impossible number of deaths that took place each day.

And yet, at its heart, this is also a book about intimacy, about fellowship and companionship, about the ties that bind people in love even (or especially?) under the most unpropitious circumstances.

Hill always writes with a lucid restraint and a beautifully pared back style that means her highly-crafted writing disappears into the story, never drawing attention to itself. Emotionally acute and very human, this makes the tragedy of war fresh all over again.
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on 4 February 2015
An unusual book, I felt as if it had been written sixty years ago, interesting though, easy read and thought provoking without too much gore. So few people after WWI chose to talk about it but as we learn more there are not words to describe how horrendous it must have been. This book gives the feel without immersing you in the horror, to my surprise I liked it. It was a Kindle special offer purchase otherwise I would not have been tempted.
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