Tuesday, August 25, 2009

211. Return of the Soldier – Rebecca West

April 2009
History: Published in 1918. This is one of West's first novels; it is charming, if also imperfect, but is a valuable novel about WW1 as it is both contemporary to the time and written from a female perspective.
Plot: In 1916 on an isolated country estate just outside London, Captain Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked captain suffering from amnesia, makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life: the devoted wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the poor innkeeper's daughter he once courted. This novel is told through the eyes of his cousin, with whom he remembers as a childhood friend. She enjoys his boyishness, and his regained charm. His wife takes it the hardest, because Chris cannot remember her after 10 years of marriage, and because even though she is so beautiful, he honestly states he loves another, one who isn’t so beautiful or young, but as Chris says, “It doesn’t matter.” Chris happily courts his mistress, only remembering her as she was many years ago. She returns his love, and tells of their parting, and the misunderstanding, and missed letters of apology. Many doctors are hired to evaluate the soldier, but none can bring him back to the present. Eventually, it is his wife, Kitty who, coldly comes to the conclusion that they must remind Chris that he once had a son, who died when he was only 2, that Chris mourned and grieved for painfully. It is when he is told of this that he remembers his married past, and he comes back, but with sorrow and grief on his face.
Review: I listened to this book. This is the first work of Rebecca West I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is the story of a well loved husband, cousin, and ex lover of 3 women who returns from the war with a case of amnesia. He is living in the past, 15 years ago before he met his beautiful yet snobby wife, and when he was in love with Margaret, a working class woman. Told from the point of view from his female cousin, it reveals undercurrents of class differences and psychological malfunctioning that I found to be fascinating. Also, it satirizes the inability for the English of that age to say what they mean.
Opening Line: “AH, don't begin to fuss!" wailed Kitty. "If a woman began to worry in these days because her husband hadn't written to her for a fortnight!
Closing Line: "He 's cured!" she whispered slowly. "He 's cured!"
Quotes: “She was repulsively furred with neglect and poverty, as even a good glove that has dropped down behind a bed in a hotel and has lain undisturbed for a day or two is repulsive when the chambermaid retrieves it from the dust and fluff.’
Rating: very good

No comments:

Post a Comment