Last night, I stayed up late and finished Flanders, a book about the First World War sent by Vicki. I found myself rather liking it, although it took a little while for me to get into the book. Of course, I’m a fan of books about military experiences in general, even fictionalized ones, because I think that writing books like this is part of the process of dealing with warfare.
The book is presented in the form of a series of letters home, which is normally a stylistic gimmick that I strongly dislike. However, I’ve been reading the letters of William Lamin, an actual First World War soldier, and these put me in the right frame of mind for Flanders.
The protagonist in the book is an American lent to the British, so he has a distinct air of being an outsider, with an instant cultural barrier between him and other soldiers. The book also delves into magical realism and dream states; without giving too much away, I would say that our protagonist is a very distinctive and unique person, and this sets him apart from others as well. As the book unfolds and the character explores his own nature, I would say that he becomes even more alienated from his companions.
My favorite all-time book about war is probably Life in the Tomb, by Stratis Myrivilis. It also happens to profile trench warfare in the First World War, and Flanders has the same haunting quality, conveying the sense of grinding misery involved in slogging through the trenches, along with the incongruity: a dead German soldier becomes a mascot, tea is packaged with sugar for convenience, officers have wallpapered dugouts.
I’m not sure that the narrative device of letters works, simply because parts of the book do not read like honest letters, or even journal entries. They are too expository and too probing to really work for me, although I was able to suspend my disbelief. From the content of the letters, it seems apparent that Anthony did her research, because the book has a raw realism to it, a clear look at the brutality and misery of war which is sometimes difficult to read.
I can see why Vicki loves this book; I have a feeling that I will be reading it again at some point this year. There’s a lot going on, with very lush, complex, layered writing which makes me suspect that I will find entirely new things when I read Flanders again.
Flanders, by Patricia Anthony. Published 1998, 354 pages. Fiction