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The Return of the Soldier Paperback – January 1, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: (January 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1420931229
  • ISBN-13: 978-1420931228
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,134,844 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

It would be a crime to give away even the barest outline of Rebecca West's apparently simple, always agonizing first novel. We shall say only that The Return of the Soldier concerns the title character and three very different women to whom he is linked in very different ways--by blood, by marriage, and by love. It is also an imaginative study (one drenched in realism) of intimacy and illusion, possession and a terrible, destructive snobbery. On one estate outside London, even as the Great War and familial loss are taking their toll, the inhabitants strive for a measured, outwardly exquisite existence. All must remain as it was while their Chris is at war: each person, each object in its proper place. "You probably know the beauty of that view," the narrator buttonholes us, looking out the nursery window:
For when Chris rebuilt Baldry Court after his marriage, he handed it over to architects who had not so much the wild eye of the artist as the knowing wink of the manicurist, and between them they massaged the dear old place into matter for innumerable photos in the illustrated papers.
But of late this universe unto itself cannot quite keep out an England altered by ambition and industry. Only a few miles away a "red suburban stain," Wealdstone, has somehow cropped up. And one day all is permanently altered--or, rather, revealed--when a Wealdstone resident comes bearing news of Captain Baldry. Mrs. William Gray is clearly not of Chris's wife Kitty and his cousin Jenny's class, as Kitty in particular makes her aware. "Again her gray eyes brimmed," Jenny observes. "People are rude to one, she visibly said, but surely not nice people like this." How is it, then, that this dreary, "dingy" woman knows Chris and knows that something has happened to him? And how is it that Jenny soon comes to see her as someone "whose personality was sounding through her squalor like a beautiful voice singing in a darkened room"?

In the remainder of this brief, perfect novel, a vanished (or repressed) past and its lost prospect of happiness comes to the fore. Rebecca West is best remembered for Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (1941), but she displays the same vision--and a similar degree of realism--in her charged 1916 novel. Many readers will passionately regret the book's last twist, even as they know it to be artistically as well as historically true. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Rebecca West - highly intelligent, highly gifted, vital, original, combative, formidable and kind - was a great woman VICTORIA GLENDINNING --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

It was heartbreaking and wonderfully written.
Kitty is mostly seen as some-what childlike, snobby and selfish; in the end it is her intense love of her injured husband that is most visible.
This is accentuated by the neat ending, too neat in it's unwrapping, though touching in the last moments.
O. Kagan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
West's best-known and best novel runs barely longer than a longish short story, yet it is so packed with detail, characterization and incident that it has all the depth of a much longer book while keeping its scope limited to the confines of a country home in rural England. The reader finishes the book (probably after one sitting) feeling as if he/she knows the four major characters intimately, a testament to West's deft, succint, perfectly molded prose. There's not a false note, a misplaced line, a hollow emotion to be found here--critical, since this is a novel nearly exploding with suppressed emotion. One feels deeply--and equally--for the wounded, amnesiac soldier; his distraught young wife; his confused but optimistic ex-girlfirend; and his cousin, the narrator, who harbors her own unrequited love for the man. It is exceedingly rare that any work of art achieves perfection, but "Return of the Soldier" does. Despite its spareness and its limited focus, it is profound in its examination of the human heart. A must read.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on August 16, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER, published in 1918, may be the most carefully conceived novel I've ever read, and I've read a fair amount of exquisitely executed fiction. Told from the first person perspective of a spinster whose entire life revolves around her cousin, his life and country mansion, it is the story of an English gentleman who goes off to World War I only to be returned not in a body bag or physically injured but with a severe case of amnesia. He does not recognize his pretty, socially correct wife; he has retreated to a hidden youthful romance with a poor woman. The woman, also married now, comes forth in the interest of helping him. The balance of the plot hangs in the implications of recovery. The balance of the full experience of the novel is to watch characters change or not change their class prejudices and worldview in light of their experiences on this country estate. Though only 90 pages long, much is packed into this book, much that is analogous to the English national experience as it moved from the Victorian era into the 20th century.
The critical introduction, which should be read as an afterward so as not to rob you of the surprises in the novel, does a good job of reviewing the analogies between the tightly closed world of the country estate and the national experience. There is much more to be mined from this novel, including a window on the then new science of psychoanalysis and how it was understood. For me, the narration was a particular revelation. At first I thought the voice a bit melodramatic in a 19th century way, but it became clear that the tone was all part of the author's plan, and that it changed as the narrator's vision changed. The specter of spinsterhood hangs thick in the air, itself a comment on the social condition of the era.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Roz Levine on May 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Return of the Soldier is a very small book, less than 100 pages, set during the first World War, that will stay with you for a long, long time. West writes about the relationship of three very different women, a wife, spinster cousin and old love, to each other and to the soldier sent home from the front with amnesia. This story is beautifully written and explores many themes, including classism, elitism, true love and hate. Each character is fully developed, each setting, vivid and though there is not a spare word in this book, it says so much. A book that should be read and discussed by everyone.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Robuck on June 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
Why aren't people reading this book? For a book written 80 years ago, you would think that Rebecca West had written this about a page of today's history. The time -- World War I -- is only a backdrop for West's look at how people respond to change. This is the best twist on an amnesia theme ever written, and its distaff point of view is a particularly original spin on a war story. At under 100 pages, you feel as though you have read 'War and Peace' by the end -- and, I might add, gotten more out of it! If West were alive today, she would be on Oprah.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Decker on March 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
This short novel asks the same question as the film The Matrix poses: is it better to be happy or to know the truth? The question is even more complex in this novel since happiness is not aligned with beauty or wealth as it is in The Matrix.

The novel reminds me very much of the 1913 novel by E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Double Life of Mr. Alfred Burton--I wonder if West read that book. Both books contrast middle-class and upper-class life, and although both clearly see the superior beauty and elegance wealth brings, both novels also depict the snobbery, isolation, and selfishness that can come with social status. Oppenheim's book is more concerned with social class than with differences in wealth--new money and old money are contrasted. West's book is more subtle and complex--the complex situation of the returned soldier with amnesia forces the characters to define, rank, and value the relative merits of love, happiness, life, truth, and social position.

(It is fascinating to juxtapose this novel as representing English country life in WWI with the Barchester novels of Angela Thirkell, and with the WWII novel of Mollie Panter-Downes, One Fine Day. The social burden of class in England comes across strongly. Another interesting juxtaposition is with Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway--which also deals with a mentally ill soldier returning from WWI.)

This book poses a true moral dilemma--there is no possible solution that can be happy ever after. This book should make you rethink the choices in your life and inspire you to greater self-knowledge.
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