1915 by Roger McDonald


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A standard kit of ingredients goes into this Australian WW I novel about a pair of friends, their girls, their fates in war--but it develops with a dimensional quality provided by some very good writing. . . and by the characters' ability to surprise us: they make decisions that we're sure they'll be able to correct, but Fate and human nature intrude again and again. Walter Gilchrist and Billy McKenzie are pals; Walter thoughtful, Billy passionate and swift almost to the point of being a bully. The girls whom they attract are, 'respectively, Frances and Diana--Frances artistic and unsatisfied, Diana plainer and more accepting. And the requisite gift of virginity is made to both boys before they go off to fight the Turks at Gallipoli, where most of the book then takes place--in the trenches. While Walter fights, Frances, out of inertia as much as anything, throws him over. Walter is killed shortly after. It seems a kind of revenge. Diana, meanwhile, carrying Billy's baby, accidentally drowns--which, in contrast to Waiter's death, seems like pure tragedy. How lives and deaths become so arbitrarily meaningless in war is especially palpable here: not just in the fighting, which McDonald gives (with scenes of dugout life, burial details, picking off a Turkish sniper) in great, vivid, artful detail; but also in the shells of significance left with those at home. True, McDonald can sometimes get a little bogged down with miniature effects of perception--which still and sap his most bash-about scenes. But this is a small complaint against what otherwise is a strong, though tenuous, book about destructive innocence--how it leads to tragedies large and small. A worthy import.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1980
Publisher: Braziller