OFFICER QUALITY by Rosemary Enright


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In another of her novels featuring a strong-willed heroine, Enright (The Walled Garden, 1993, etc.)--herself a former member of the British Women's Army Corps--puts a feminist spin on the generational pull of the army. Esme Hansard, the orphaned child of decorated WW II heroes, has been raised by her aunt Alice, also a celebrated officer. When of age, then, Esme follows in her family's footsteps and joins the Women's Royal Army Corps. Thanks to her prestigious military background, as well as the strength of character she's inherited from her mother and aunt, Esme is capable and confident but appears a threat to intimidated superiors who constantly harass and abuse her. While battling the forces conspiring against her, she falls in love with Clive Carson, a snobbish officer in the Household Cavalry, who breaks her heart when he leaves her for a socially prominent woman. The last straw comes, though, when she's sent to the forbidding North Country and subjected to severe humiliation at the hands of the all-male barracks. Falsely accused of insubordination, she's put on six months' probation and decides, in disgust, to leave the army forever. Fortunately (it seems), she meets and marries Ivor Llewellyn, with whom she has a daughter, Vonnie, and for a short time lives happily. But when Ivor, guided by rank-climbing aspirations, becomes insufferably domineering, Esme divorces him, sends Vonnie to live with Aunt Alice, and becomes a reporter on the front lines of a war in East Arabia. The cycle will continue, as Enright establishes in the final pages: Vonnie is fighting in the Gulf War, and Esme is where she was born to be: by her daughter's side in the army. Despite a preponderance of technical army-speak, the independent, charismatic Esme shoulders the narrative with aplomb.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1995
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: St. Martin's