Email this review


A wholly different novel from anything Roberts has done (he will be best remembered for his Victoria Four Thirty, I imagine) -- a symbolic story of after death which has an evanescent quality of fantasy, with spiritual overtones. The tragic ruin that is Monte Cassino after the second world war has destroyed it provides the scene which brought the eight characters of the novel together. The story, in its flashbacks, encompasses two wars:- Charles Conway had been killed there on his honeymoon, and his son, young Charles is killed at Monte Cassino during World War II; Brother Sebastian, of the Order resident there, has discarded his monastic identity and rejoined the army as Gerald Carter, who had sent his best friend to his death in the first World War- and then, hounded by remorse, had taken his vows as a monk; Rudi, a broken-down composer and alcoholic, and Frankie, with whom he had quarreled -- and who died with the quarrel on his conscience; a young Pole, a despicable character; two British soldiers; a Ghurkha from India -- eight victims of not only the ravages of war, but the ravages of peace. In the afterworld they meet with St. Benedict, founder of the monastery, who gives them some measure of understanding of death, of the meaning of life wiped out, unfinished. Sensitive approach to a problem intensified for many of the losses of war. Better written than much he has done.

Publisher: Doubleday