Today is Remembrance Sunday. A chance for us to remember the sacrifice of the soldiers who fell and fought during conflicts.
Today got me thinking about this enthralling book I read earlier this year called Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker. The book is about a soldier who is blown up after stepping on an IED and flits between the time before, at the time of and after the explosion. What is unusual about the book is the method in which Parker narrates: from the perspective of inanimate objects (e.g. a handbag, soldier’s boots, a rug (my favourite) and the IED itself). This allows Parker to explore stories of not only the solider but also of a family who resides in the area of conflict (never confirmed but I assume it is Afghanistan) and, unusually for a ‘war novel’, the insurgents themselves. Parker does not title his chapters with the object – this is something you need to figure out for yourself which I thought was a nice touch.
When I met Parker at a book reading he explained how his style of narration was intended to display the disorientation one feels after being blown up by an IED. In my opinion he pulls this off wonderfully. Whilst Parker himself fought in Iraq and Afghanistan – this is not an autobiography. One would be for forgiven for thinking that it was.
Whilst I have read books which use this style of narration for a chapter or a paragraph, for example My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (the perspective of a gold coin) I am not aware of any book which has done this throughout. For a debut novel, this was brave but it is what sets it apart from other ‘war novels’.
I consider ‘war novels’ very difficult to get right. There are only a handful of novels which I consider to be great pieces of literature in this genre being: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker. Anatomy of a Soldier is now firmly within that collective. I hope that all literature students are now directed to this beautiful book as it allows a modern view of war and sacrifice.
If you read one novel about modern conflict I urge you to read this. The way Parker describes the insurgents in such a neutral way is surprising for one who has fought against such people. This is what I love about new authors – they can change the way you read and consider subject matters.
Recommended for: those who enjoy reading from different perspectives
Favourite quote: “I was making you die and when that happened I would die too. But I had no option, only oblivion. I had to persist and would consume you to do it.”
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!