Susan Hill's novel about the First World War was written over 40 years ago but still worth reading even though so much material has been added to the library of Great War memoirs and fiction in recent years. Hilliard and Barton are two officers of different temperament, Hilliard depressed and detached from the start of the novel, Barton more optimistic though less experienced. Their relationship deepens from wary friendship to love, though it's undemonstrative and restrained. Barton writes long and cheerful letters to his huge family, so that they begin to regard HIlliard as one of their own. But when will it be Barton's turn to face the fighting?
The novel conveys very well the boredom that soldiers had to put up with as they waited to go to the Front. Manoeuvres and routines, pointless exercises and drills were carried out to keep them active, but nothing could prepare them for the slaughter that was to come.
Susan Hill must have done some painstaking research - and without the benefit of the internet - to understand what the soldiers went through in the trenches and behind the lines. It's impossible not to feel angry about the waste of lives, the arbitrariness of war and death.
Some readers may feel that the two main characters are TOO restrained about their emotions, but I feel they were both very much of their time, when so much went unspoken.
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