'Things like this don't happen often in a lifetime...'
John Hilliard, a young subaltern returning to the Western Front after a brief period of sick leave back in England blind to the horrors of the trenches, finds his battalion tragically altered. His commanding officer finds escape in alcohol, there is a new adjutant and even Hilliard's batman has been killed.
But there is David Barton. As yet untouched and unsullied by war, radiating charm and common sense, forever writing long letters to his family. Theirs is a strange meeting and a strange relationship: the coming together of opposites in the summer lull before the inevitable storm.
©2014 Susan Hill (P)2014 Audible Studios
I adore really well-written fiction, mystery series, and historical fiction, and delight in finding well-narrated translations.
This book is about war on a very personal level. It's about how ugliest human death and gore became so commonplace in the daily experience of soldiers in WWI that it desensitized those in the midst of it, and later kept them from being able to face thinking of or speaking of it again. It is about the emotional and mental changes young soldiers had to go through as they struggled daily with mass killing at "trench level," unprepared by anything in their lives up to then.
In this story, death and chaos are juxtaposed in the minds of the young men with thoughts of their families at home--people who can have no idea of what is being experienced by the beloved young people they sent off to war--in some cases because those young people protect their families from the truth by not telling them.
It explains why even now so many who have been to war can never really go home again, because the experience of war can change and ruin young lives well before it takes them in death.
The descriptions gradually introducing these young men to the reality of life and death in the trenches are horrific and heartbreaking. As their growing friendship and love for each other enriches them, we realize it is born less of similarities in their upbringing than of their shared experience and profound change--in the midst of daily slaughter and futility, they understand each other as nobody else ever can.
The building of this story of the deepest sadness and loss and love brought me to tears.
I was very much touched by this book.
A beautiful, transcendent novel about the underbelly of war (WWI), and the friendship and love that sometimes grows. Because the novel takes its time, its power in revealing the sorrow, folly,, and sometimes transcendence of 'the human condition' will remain with me.
"A rare and intimate account of life at the Front."
A wonderful book and so sensitively read. WW1 comes relentlessly to life as the appalling suffering and useless waste of a generation is described. And the unbelievable stoicism and bravery of ordinary men. This is a keeper, worth listening to again.
"Superb Moving Story"
So very moving. It was not what I was expecting but nevertheless I was completely absorbed by this very touching and real story
"Beautiful story. Beautifully read. Just.Well done."
I think both versions are just superb. I loved the printed version. Every time I finish the book, I find myself going back to the beginning to start reading it again. When I found out there was an audiobook version, I instantly jumped and bought it, regardless of whether the narrator was a good reader or not.
I think the audio version just enhanced my experience of this already wonderful and moving story. Certain bits in the printed book were strange to me when I read them, but when read aloud in audio, they suddenly made sense to me. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed listening to this. I actually haven't really finished listening to it in its entirety because I kept going back to certain chapters/sections to re-listen to them again. I think the narrator, Mr. Jameson, did a fantastic job with the reading - although it took a while for me to get used to Hilliard and Barton's voices though. Otherwise, I think this is going to be one of those audiobooks that I won't mind listening to again and again.
The story itself is rather simple, about two men who meet during the Great War. It's unusual because the War itself serves as a backdrop/background to the story. It isn't centered on the fighting or is it about the politics. It is about the odd relationship between two soldiers who come from different worlds. It is touching and moving and, the best way I would describe it is, subtle.
The beginning started out a little slow but I didn't mind it since it made us understand the protagonist even more - about how restless and out of place he is when among the people at home, and, like the reader, how eager he is to get back into the action and to someplace familiar. His initial meeting with Barton, his gradual realisation of how much they seemed to click and their amazing friendship, Barton's letters to his family members and his willingness to share them with Hilliard... Everything was great and sad and just wonderful while it lasted.
Hilliard and Barton's interactions, Hilliard's realisations of how much Barton means to him, and Barton's letters to his family. His letters just make me happy listening to them. It feels like Barton isn't just sharing them with Hilliard but with the reader/listener too.
There are simply a lot. I don't think I've had a book give me so many emotions before. I guess, based on the recent listening of the audiobook, I'd have to say one moving moment was when Barton slowly breaks down following his first experience in the front lines. I felt that I understood how he felt, watching men die and for no reason at all, and how much he wanted to just sink into the mud and cry.
Susan Hill did a fantastic job with this story and the premise of this. I tend to have a preference for character-driven/character-focused stories and this one was a perfect one for me (also helped by the fact that I love stories which are set in a WW1 background). I really recommend trying this book out, whether printed or audio version.
"Simultaneously heart warming and terrifyingly chilling"
I'll start with the negatives, well, there is only one really and that was the narration. I found it hard to distinguish between characters during dialogue as the narrator did not put much effort into character voices. Otherwise he was Ok.
Right, now on to the positives, for which there were plenty. This audiobook captured the chilling aspects of world war from a trench, while at the same time conveying the magic that only very few of us humans ever get the chance to experience: true friendship.
In the last place possible you would expect to see friendship blossoming, two men with completely different backgrounds came together and it reminds us all that during those harsh years that were taken up by the world wars, there must have been hundreds of men who did strike up these close relationships and comarade. Hilliard and Blake form an irrevocable friendship bond in this moving portrayal which discusses themes of terror, trauma, hardship, endurance and friendship.
I urge you to give this a try. It is a Great story.
Good story about two people helping each other through the war and their different ways of life. Unfortunately one does not make it!
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