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No Man's Land: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 24, 2017
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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“A barnburner of a novel . . . A haunting fictionalization of a pivotal episode in a hellish war.”
—Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post
"No Man’s Land is a page-turner, an opera, a costume drama to binge watch. Simon Tolkien knows how to keep a story moving, and he does it well."
“A thumping good read . . . a splendid novel that exemplifies historical fiction at its descriptive, disturbing, addictive and engaging best.”
—The Richmond-Times Dispatch
"An epic coming-of-age story . . . thoroughly enjoyable."
"Vivid set pieces, notably a wonderful section down a mine, while Adam is an intriguing central character: clever, sincere and, amid the turbulence of early 20th-century England, a determined survivor."
"[Tolkien's] most ambitious work yet ... Adam makes an attractive hero and his story has more than enough colour and energy to keep us reading."
—Sunday Times (London)
"In this emotionally charged novel, Tolkien brings to the fore the social injustice, poverty and attrition of war in early 20th-century England. The scenes underground in the mines of Scarsdale are every bit as shocking as the harrowing descriptions of trench warfare when Adam and his comrades are repeatedly sent over the top."
About the Author
SIMON TOLKIEN was born in England in 1959 and grew up near Oxford. His grandfather was J. R. R. Tolkien. He studied modern history at Trinity College, Oxford, and then went on to become a lawyer specializing in criminal justice. His novels include Final Witness, The Inheritance, and The King of Diamonds. He lives with his wife and two children in Southern California.
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By this time, the winds of war are blowing. Adam is admitted to Oxford, but after fleeing the shelling at Scarborough, he feels compelled to join up, and thus we find ourselves in the hell of the Somme.
Tolkien spent several years researching the book, and it shows in the characterisation of the miners and the excruciating detail of the war. I particularly liked the miners, who despite their lack of education are not ignorant. When I don't need a cheat sheet to remember the characters and their names, the author has made them real.
One curious moment is the funeral procession of Edward VII, when Adam locks eyes with Kaiser Wilhelm: 'It was only a few seconds at most, but Adam had time to sense the man's extraordinary rigidity - his frozen left arm, his chin thrust forward, his unblinking blue eyes; his concentration and self-absorption. He seemed mad somehow, capable of anything.' I do wonder if this came from JRR's memories, as it seems intensely personal.
If I have a bone to pick with the book, it's with the portrayal of women, most of whom are either selfless slaves to their men or conniving schemers. Adam's mother and the maid Sarah are two exceptions - I do wish we'd seen more of Sarah in the final chapters. Miriam eventually becomes more likeable as she comes into her own, but I was much more taken with Sarah, though perhaps that would have been a rather unrealistic ending.
Nonetheless, the heart of the book is the injustice of wealth and poverty during the era - I would say that Simon is not unsympathetic to the socialist cause. Those who had no land had no vote, so many of the men sent to slaughter in WWI had no part in the government that blundered its way into the war. The fictional mining town is decimated by the war; being men of no consequence, they are the grunts who march into the German guns at the Somme. The callous lack of care for human life of the generals is fully exposed; one can understand why so many men attempted go AWOL - a quick finish by a firing squad must have seemed preferable to them. That so many did not can only be attributed to the myth of honour in a foolish war.
One reviewer mentioned that JRR Tolkien "didn't feel it was right to share [his experience in the trenches] with people at home", and thus we see Adam on home leave, desperately inarticulate and unable to connect with the people he loves. One might wish they had spoken more about the horror (though I understand why they could not); in the pre-television days, men only spoke of glory, and young men joined up at once, eager to meet out justice to the Germans. This is one of the things I've always respected about JRR - he was one of the few who knew better. He joined up eventually, but under a provision that allowed him to complete his studies before fulfilling his service (and by that time, he would have been taken anyhow by compulsory order). Adam's miner friends are so eager to join up that they try to lie about their ages (this goes badly in a small town, as everyone knows them). However, their lives as miners (most of these boys have been working since they were ten) are hardly the kind to inspire self-preservation; Adam, at least, has a better life before him.