HOW MANY MILES TO BABYLON by Jennifer Johnston
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Regrettably, Jennifer Johnston's two earlier novels, with which this is affiliated, have not appeared over here. Oddly enough the closest comparison that comes immediately to mind is Susan Hill's Strange Meeting (1972) -- also oddly enough (considering that both are written by contemporary young women) a story of World War I and the relationship between two participants although the latter is far different in character here and Miss Johnston -- a considerably more gifted writer -- has a wider range of implications. Nothing short of the human condition subjected not only to the indignities of ""class"" (""Because I am an officer and a gentleman they have not taken away my bootlaces or my pen"" -- his bog Irish Republican friend Jerry will not be so well treated) but of course the ""eternal recurrences"" of war, particularized in the futile Irish struggle. Alexander tells this story from the time when he was a young ""fellamelad"" from a family of means and cultivation -- a tired father, an elegant, dismissive mother -- and first knew Jerry, their stableboy. An association frowned on first by his father -- later by the unfeeling Major when they are both over there together. The novel is striated with sadness and wisdom; it is also graced with the immanent lyrical talent of the Irish writers at their best (""The sky was immense. Huge white clouds, their bellies stained black by the drifting smoke from the land, floated with dignity across it.""). In a word -- one to be applied with discrimination and discretion -- a lovely book, testamentary in tone and universal in feeling.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1974
Publisher: Doubleday