Copyright Robert Graves 1957
Blurb: ‘Goodbye…with its vivid, harrowing descriptions of the Western Front, is a classic war document.’
OK so the blurb may not make some of you pull this one from the shelf however I find war dramas, literature and history fascinating. I also feel it is a moral obligation for us to study conflicts to ensure we are aware of issues which led to wars and their resolution. As a traveller I wish to be sympathetic, understanding and sensitive to the history of the places I visit and the troubles faced by the people I may meet. As a potential psychology student I also have an interest in the human psyche and how resilient it is in such extreme circumstance.
Plot: When I read historical tales I’m always surprised at just how much travel people undertook before the days of cheap airlines and this book includes lots of toing and froing across a continent. The writer holds no bars when describing the trench warfare however his no frills, some may say harsh, matter of fact descriptions of battle and its resultant damages are written in a style which makes it quick to read although difficult to absorb on an emotional level.
“The first dead body I came across was Samson’s, hit in seventeen places. I found that he had forced his knuckles into his mouth to stop himself crying out and attracting any more men to their death”
The trench humour comes through, a survival mechanism at the time I guess. Whilst reading I imagined those at home would never have heard the stories as so many soldiers can not bring the tragedy home with them. They store the pictures of death and disease in some secret room in their brains to only revisit in their nightmares protecting their loved ones from such brutality. You only need to watch a remembrance day parade to know that these memories still surface in a moment decades later, hardened troops tear filled eyes gazing into the depths of despair.
Characters: Graves does not come across as a particularly sympathetic individual, I don’t think I like him very much but then that isn’t necessary. He describes unexpected resentment between rival regiments fighting on the same side, hints at the issues of homo-sexuality in the early 20th century and mentions his large family almost in passing as an aside to the war.
Conclusion: This book is a rewrite by the author of a book written in 1929, he brought it up to date in 1957 for various reasons one of which ‘…a general editing of my excusably ragged prose…’ Which to any writer is reassuring and no surprise as every time you read a piece of self penned text you see a way to improve it for the reader. I’m hopeful I won’t feel the need to revisit any of my work so may years later, but never say never.
Recommended: This definitely appears high up in my long list of book recommendations. War is sadly a necessity and I do think this book is worth a read to know how brutal it can be on the individual. For those who study literature you will see references throughout to eminent writers, those who study history or military tactics will maybe understand some of the references better that I did. All in all, a classic book which will remain on my bookshelves, inspiring, informative and very well written.
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