Every year there is at least one book in the readalong I’m dreading. This year Gabriel Chevallier’s Fear –La Peur is one of them. Cheavllier called it explicitly an anti-war novel and at the same time his wish was to be as truthful as possible, to tell things as they were and to make those, who were not there understand what the war was like. His own experience as an infantryman made him especially qualified to write about the war.
In the French edition of the book is a foreword from 1951 and reading it, one could almost think thar Chevallier himself thought that he went too far. Probably it’s not surprising that the book went out of print when WWII broke out as it was considered bad for morale.
In any case, it’s one of the great French WWI classics. Another one of Chevallier’s novels, Clochemerle, was quite successful.
Here are the first sentences
The fire was already smouldering somewhere in the depths of Europe, but carefree France donned its summer costumes, straw hats and flannel trousers, and packed its bags for the holidays. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky – such an optimistic, bright blue sky. It was terribly hot and drought was the only possible worry. It would be so lovely out in the country side, or down by the sea. The scent of iced absinthe hung over the café terraces and gypsy orchestras played popular tunes from The Merry Widow which was then all the rage.
Some details and the blurb for those who want to join
It is 1915. Jean Dartemont is just a young man. He is not a rebel, but neither is he awed by authority and when he’s called up and given only the most rudimentary training, he refuses to follow his platoon. Instead, he is sent to Artois, where he experiences the relentless death and violence of the trenches. His reprieve finally comes when he is wounded, evacuated and hospitalised.
The nurses consider it their duty to stimulate the soldiers’ fighting spirit, and so ask Jean what he did at the front.
‘I was afraid.’
First published in France in 1930, Fear is both graphic and clear-eyed in its depiction of the terrible experiences of soldiers during the First World War.
The discussion starts on Friday, 27 June 2014.
Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.