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.

10 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong January Wrap Up: Strange Meeting

  1. Thanks again for hosting! I thought it was a great discussion, gave me much food for thought. I’ve already taken the next book out of the library, and I can’t wait to start reading.

    I’m glad you chose WWI first. I’ve read dozens of WWII novels, but haven’t done much reading of The Great War, so I feel like I’m learning a lot.

    • I’m glad people enjoy it and participate. I certainly did. I know there will be more reviews for Rebecca West’s novel. I’ll post the introduction to Jennifer Johnston on Thursday, I guess. I have read some more books on WWI, it felt like familiar terrain, easier to start with. I am quite familiar with WWII as well but I know Vietnam and the Civil War mainly from movies. There will be a lot to discover for me.

  2. Congratulation on your 1st read-a-long event 🙂
    I wish I could join.
    Tho I didn’t say much, because I didn’t know what to say, but I really enjoy reading both review and comments. As Anna said, a good food for thought.

    • Thanks. I am glad it went well and am looking forward to the next book. It is a totally different experience to read a book like this, with other readers. I like it a lot. You will join for the Endo, right? I think there is a lot of interest in The Sea and Poison too. Maybe you could find Rebecca West (March). It is only 90 pages long and your library might have it, it is quite famous.

      • I will 🙂 It’s On May, right?
        Unfortunately, my library is Japan Foundation Library, they only have J-literatures. The public library in my city is too far. I came to another library near JF but the requirement is too tiring so I didn’t join it.

  3. Wonderful experience. My first readalong was memorable. Thanks for hosting. Looking forward to the other books. As a high school teacher it is nice to sometimes communicate with people with like interests and intellectual abilities. I also liked the idea that you can read a book and not catch key things until others point them out. Thanks to all for that.

    • Thanks for joining and participating. It’s true, some things were much clearer after reading others comments. It showed me that I read in a very particular way which does shape the experience considerably. Interesting, really.

  4. Yes, this first book went really well! It was a good choice to start with. I’m sure there were benefits for being an officer over being an enlisted man and it does make sense that their letters wouldn’t have been censored. I’d be curious to see if I can find a book of letters–I think Lyn Macdonad’s books on WWI do make use of those primary sources. If you’re interested in another WWI book you might like Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt–which is told from the animals perspective–good, but I found it challenging reading as it is written in stream of consciousness style. Thanks Caroline, this was fun and I have the Johnston ready for a reread.

    • I thought as well that it was a good starting point. I try to figure out if I can tell in advance which books I will like the most. I am looking forward to all of them, the only one I am a not sure about is Killer Angels. I ordered Our Horses in Egypt. I had no idea it was stream of consciousness. I often like it but after a day at work it might indeed be challenging. I was afraid it might depict horses who suffer. That would leave me bad for days. You are welcome, I’m glad to have you reading along. So you will actually reread the Johnston?

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