Having covered poetry and non-fiction, we now move on to the final post in my series of World War One reading lists: fiction. These works range from barely disguised autobiographies by authors who had actually fought in the war themselves to books from a curious early 1990′s wave of well-received novels set during the Great War (if you have a good theory as to why WWI inspired so many literary classics in those years, let me know!).
Under Fire (1916), Henri Barbusse
These are not soldiers, these are men. They are notadventurers or warriors, designed for human butchery – as butchers or cattle. They are the ploughmen or workers that one recognizes even in their uniforms. They are uprooted civilians. They are ready, waiting for the signal for death or murder, but when you examine their faces between the vertical ranks of bayonets, they are nothing but men.
The Return of the Soldier (1918), Rebecca West
Embraces do not matter; they merely indicate the will to love and may as well be followed by defeat as victory. But disregard means that now there needs to be no straining of the eyes, no stretching forth of the hands, no pressing of the lips, because theirs is such a union that they are no longer aware of the division of their flesh.
Parade’s End (1924 – 1928), Ford Madox Ford
[In] the face of death—except at sea, by fire, railway accident, or accidental drowning in rivers; in the face of madness, passion, dishonour or—and particularly—prolonged mental strain, you will have all the disadvantages of the beginner at any game and may come off very badly indeed. Fortunately death, love, public dishonour and the like are rare occurrences in the life of the average man, so that the great advantage would seem to have lain with English society; at any rate before the later months of the year 1914.
All Quiet On The Western Front (1928), E.M. Remarque
But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?
A Farewell to Arms (1929), Ernest Hemingway
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
The Memoirs of George Sherston (1937), Siegfried Sassoon
I was huddled up in a little dog-kennel of a dug-out, reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles and trying to forget about the shells which were hurrying and hurrooshing overhead. I was meditating about England, visualizing a gray day down in Sussex; dark green woodlands with pigeons circling above the tree-tops; dogs barking, cocks crowing, and all the casual tappings and twinklings of the countryside. I thought of the huntsman walking out in his long white coat with the hounds; of Parson Colwood pulling up weeds in his garden till tea-time; of Captain Huxtable helping his men get in the last load of hay while a shower of rain moved along the blurred Weald below his meadows. It was for all that, I supposed, that I was in the front-line with soaked feet, trench-mouth, and feeling short of sleep [...].
Regeneration (1991), Pat Barker
Sometimes, in the trenches, you get the sense of something, ancient. One trench we held, it had skulls in the side, embedded, like mushrooms. It was actually easier to believe they were men from Marlborough’s army, than to think they’d been alive a year ago. It was as if all the other wars had distilled themselves into this war, and that made it something you almost can’t challenge. It’s like a very deep voice, saying; ‘Run along, little man, be glad you’ve survived.’
A Very Long Engagement (1991), Sébastien Japrisot
She cried a great deal, because women take such things hard, but she did not overdo it, because women don’t give up easily, either.
Birdsong (1993), Sebastian Faulks
The noise of their laughter roared like the sea in his ears. He wanted it louder and louder; he wanted them to drown out the war with their laughter. If they could laugh loud enough, they might bring the world back to its senses; they might laugh loud enough to raise the dead.