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The War Zone Hardcover – March 25, 1989


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A photo of children in bomb-torn Beirut hangs in the bedroom of Tom, the adolescent narrator of this taut, gripping novel by a young British writer. The war zone of the title, however, is the seemingly tranquil village in Devon where Tom and his family have moved from London. Bored and restless, Tom at first seems a contemporary Holden Caulfield, possessed of an urge to do mischief to establish his identity. But as he relates the circumstances that transform his lifehis discovery of the incestuous relationship between his father and his older sister Jessiethe novel reveals its sinister, shocking theme. Because he and Jessie have always been close, the situation feels like a double betrayal to Tom, who also realizes that to reveal the bizarre secret to his mother, preoccupied with a new baby, will destroy them all. In electrically tense prose, Stuart succeeds in enveloping the reader in the surcharged atmosphere of sexual perversion. Although Tom's painful emotional limbo is effectively conveyed, however, Stuart's portrayal of Jessie is less successful. The young woman's cool, nervy manipulation of her father and Tom, her determination to engage in every form of sexual experience, is meant to mirror the "corrupt, repressive" society of Thatcher's England, but Jessie loses her credibility as she leads Tom into a maelstrom of depravity and violence. The denouement, containing the rationale for Jessie's behavior, is unconvincing, but until that point the reader is caught up in a riveting tale.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This exciting but distasteful novel is narrated by rebellious, adolescent Tom, scion of a middle-class English family who discovers that his elder sister Jessica is having sexual relations with their father. Simmering with frightening psychological tensions and perverse violence, the novel effectively captures the raw emotions of adolescence in uninhibited language. It finally fails primarily because one cannot believe in the witchlike cunning and amorality of Jessica, on which the plot hinges. And the conclusion, in which Tom ends up having sex with his sister (just like Dad) is too perverse to be satisfying. The fascination the book undoubtedly exerts is due mostly to morbid curiosity about how far the author's odd imagination will take him, and one is left wishing he had put his undoubted talents to more worthwhile use.
- Bryan Aubrey, Fairfield, Ia.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (March 25, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385249535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385249539
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,486,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Based in Shanghai, Los Angeles, London and Marrakech, Alexander Stuart (also known as Alexander Chow-Stuart) is a British-born novelist and screenwriter, whose novels, non-fiction and children's books have been translated into eight languages and published in the US, Britain, Europe, Israel and throughout the world.

His most controversial novel, The War Zone (now reissued in an updated and revised 20th Anniversary Edition), about a family torn apart by incest, was turned into a multi-award-winning film by Oscar-nominated actor/director Tim Roth.

At the time of the book's initial publication, The War Zone won Britain's prestigious Whitbread Prize for Best Novel (now the Costa Book Awards), but was stripped of the prize amid much public controversy, when one of the judges - who hated the book - politicked behind the scenes.

Stuart's non-fiction book, Life On Mars, about his time spent living in Miami's increasingly trendy South Beach of the 1990s, inspired a two-hour British Channel Four television documentary, The End of America.

As a screenwriter, Stuart has worked with actors ranging from Angelina Jolie to Jodie Foster to Kiefer Sutherland, and with directors including Tim Roth, Danny Boyle, Nicolas Roeg and Jonathan Glazer.

Stuart is married to artist-writer Charong Chow and they have two young children.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Where in the world do I start? I had never heard of the War Zone until I began to read about Tim Roth's proposed film. I admire Roth's acting and have been a fan of Ray Winstone (he gets the 'nice guy' role of Dad) since his debut in 'Scum'. Being a pedantic sort of person I felt bound to read the novel before I saw the film and got left with too concrete an impression of how the characters look. I've always been a fast reader but I devoured this book in a little over a day. Stuart's story is utterly compelling, I couldn't understand Jessie's motivation at all. It obsessed me, was this girl sociopathic in her total indifference to the people she hurts? Or is she so damaged by what has happened to her that life means nothing more than a search for the ultimate taboo to break? Lesbian exhibitionism, beach sex with Nick, sex with both dad and brother, what's next for Jessica? Beautiful, intelligent, deadly - it is all too easy to dismiss Jessie as the instigator of the relationship, to dismiss her as a spoiled Lolita wreaking havoc for the ultimate thrill. Ultimately though, Jess is a victim and dad can't escape the fact that he is an abuser who destroys his entire family. Tom is a superb character; a turbulent mix of humour, anger and frustration. I thought the novel was fantastic, particularly in it's climactic scene and the close collaboration of author Stuart and director Roth (Stuart wrote the screenplay and was closely involved with the casting of the family) leads me to expect great things of the film. Get watching and reading folks, the subject matter is horrific and it is graphic but it is something we all need to face. For all it's horror, this novel exerts a grim fascination.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There are two adversaries in the war being fought here: Tom, the narrator, allied with his violent rebelliousness, and his older sister, Jessie, who is having sex with their father (at her instigation). Caught in the middle are their mother, and the new baby, and the local biker scumbags in the small Cornish town to which they have moved from the train wreck of London. Jessie, who is carnality personified, insists there must be nothing she would not do, while Tom, who hates his sister and adores her in equal measure, isn't nearly the bad boy he wants to be -- or thinks he ought to be. Stuart's prose is intensely vivid and impossible to glide over, no matter how uncomfortable you become at some of the scenes he paints. A book that is meant to be disturbing and succeeds. "Brilliant," as Jessie would say.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
The pleasure of reading this book comes from the fact that is different from the film with the same title. It is very disturbing, sometimes funny,
and it's okay to read it, it's just a really good book. The film's script was also written by Stuart so it's a good thing to compare these two original version. To me, the book is about betrayal, madness and decadence while the film focuses straight on the effects of incest.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By UncompletedWork on August 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
Despite the storied 20 year history of both the novel and subsequent movie, I was ignorant of its existence.

And quite a history The War Zone has; the novel was stripped of the Whitbread Prize (now the Costa book awards.) An event that Stuart himself credits as far more helpful in promotion of his book than perhaps just receiving the award itself. Script adaptations of The War Zone by Stuart number in the tens, and it seemed a successful film adaptation would remain in "development hell" for all eternity.

The War Zone is a dark, unwavering narrative filled with elegant prose. A book oft touted as about incest and abuse, was to me, a deep and layered texture about middle-class suburban despondence. The true disconnectedness and alienation that is male adolescence (I've been there!) is compounded by a world spiraling out of control. As a reader, the comfort of familiarity is ripped away as an impending sense of dread and uneasiness builds. To be inside the head of a young boy, Tom, surprisingly evoked more pity than sympathy. All of Tom's innocence, his childhood, become forever stained by the knowledge of his father's sexual abuse of his sister Jessica. As I read, my mind stiffened. I braced for impending impact, almost certain of its trajectory. And suddenly, what I knew, was not what I knew. Tom's fear and his inability to change the outcome of even his own life paralyzes the reader.

The bleak and muted English countryside enraptured me. Even though I've never been to the United Kingdom, Stuart conjures a middle class moroseness that I'm all too familiar with here in the States. I enjoyed the subtle, stifled elements of the world. There is a realness and depth that is unnerving.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By UncompletedWork on July 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
Despite the storied 20 year history of both the novel and subsequent movie, I was ignorant of its existence.

And quite a history The War Zone has; the novel was stripped of the Whitbread Prize (now the Costa book awards.) An event that Stuart himself credits as far more helpful in promotion of his book than perhaps just receiving the award itself. Script adaptations of The War Zone by Stuart number in the tens, and it seemed a successful film adaptation would remain in "development hell" for all eternity.

The War Zone is a dark, unwavering narrative filled with elegant prose. A book oft touted as about incest and abuse, was to me, a deep and layered texture about middle-class suburban despondence. The true disconnectedness and alienation that is male adolescence (I've been there!) is compounded by a world spiraling out of control. As a reader, the comfort of familiarity is ripped away as an impending sense of dread and uneasiness builds. To be inside the head of a young boy, Tom, surprisingly evoked more pity than sympathy. All of Tom's innocence, his childhood, become forever stained by the knowledge of his father's sexual abuse of his sister Jessica. As I read, my mind stiffened. I braced for impending impact, almost certain of its trajectory. And suddenly, what I knew, was not what I knew. Tom's fear and his inability to change the outcome of even his own life paralyzes the reader.

The bleak and muted English countryside enraptured me. Even though I've never been to the United Kingdom, Stuart conjures a middle class moroseness that I'm all too familiar with here in the States. I enjoyed the subtle, stifled elements of the world. There is a realness and depth that is unnerving.
Read more ›
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