Literature and War Readalong January Wrap Up: Strange Meeting

I just wanted to thank all of those who have participated either through reading, commenting or reviewing Susan Hill’s Strange Meeting. I think it was quite a success and everybody liked the novel. Various comments either on my or on other sites showed that there is a great interest in this novel and in the topic of WWI in general. I’m glad I chose a succession of WWI novels to start with as it will be interesting and thought-provoking to compare them.

Susan Hill’s novel is unique in so far as the biggest part of the novel takes place in a rest camp, off the front line. We approach the trenches very slowly. Erich Maria Remarque’s Im Westen nichts Neues aka All Quiet on the Western Front is much harder to read because of the importance of combat. We have a sequence in which Paul Bäumer is on leave and he does feel as lost as Hilliard on his stay in England. The isolation of the soldier who returns from combat to his home is a common theme. It’s very hard to imagine what it must have been like. They couldn’t speak and no one wanted to listen anyway.

Birdsong came to my mind as well, while reading. It’s an outstanding novel in many ways as good as or better than Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. There is much more emphasis on combat in Birdsong. Regeneration and its sequels are mostly exploring shell shock.

When reading the next novel in the readalong we have to bear in mind that the two main characters in Strange Meeting were both officers. This is important as this will not always be the case in all the novels we read and the life of an officer and a simple private was certainly much different. The main character in All Quiet on the Western Front is just a simple private.

One topic that we discussed and which I found interesting was the question whether Barton’s very explicit letters wouldn’t have been censored. I was wondering as well and luckily Susan answered this question by pointing out that Barton actually writes in one letter, that – because they are officers – their mail isn’t always censored.

Danielle pointed out in her post how very young Susan Hill was when she wrote this book. I think this explains the very fresh tone of Barton in some places. I had totally forgotten that all the Susan Hill books that I have read so far were the work of a much older woman.

Anna’s quote in her review reminded me that a big part of the book is dedicated to the devastation of the earth, the landscape, the animals. This is an important part and has also been emphasized in the comments. The French landscape still bear traces and I am not only talking of the memorials and cemeteries. The trenches were long, deep, the constant shelling ripped the earth apart. The horror of this war has not only wiped out a generation of young men but transformed and marked the earth forever.