Saturday, 11 November 2017

Guest Review: Anatomy Of A Soldier by Harry Parker

Anatomy Of A Soldier by Harry Parker
Published in the UK by Faber and Faber in February 2016.

Where to buy this book:

Guest review by Charlie Laidlaw
I met Charlie Laidlaw on Twitter and have his novel, The Things We Learn When We're Dead, to read and review for next month. I'm planning to post about it on the 5th December to coincide with WorldReads from Scotland on Stephanie Jane. Paisley born, Charlie grew up in western Scotland before studying at the University of Edinburgh. He then worked briefly as a street actor, baby photographer, puppeteer and restaurant dogsbody before becoming a journalist.

Charlie's rating: 5 of 5 stars

Winner of the Waverton Good Read Award 2017
Shortlisted for the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award 2017
Shortlisted for the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award 2017

Imagine if your whole life changed in the blink of an eye . . .

Captain Tom Barnes is leading British troops into a war zone when he is gravely injured by an exploding IED. This devastating moment and the transformative months that follow are narrated here by forty-five objects, telling one unforgettable story.

Charlie says: In literature, there is nothing new under the sun. Whether it’s a novel about love or war, betrayal or hate, murder or redemption, it’s all been written about many times before.

All a writer can do is find a different way to tell an old story and, by giving it fresh perspective, make it new and engaging.

One trick is to give the narrator a distinct and unique voice.  That’s true, for example, in The Panopticon (Jenni Fagan), where the narrator is a young woman writing in Scottish dialect; or The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon) by a narrator with autism.  (Graeme Simsion used the same autistic flourish in The Rosie Project).

That distinctive voice can seem bizarre.  Think The Humans (Matt Haig), written by an alien, or The Last Family in England (ditto Matt Haig), written by a dog.  Or, one of my favourites, A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Xiaolu Guo), written in English by someone who doesn’t speak English very well.

Which is all by way of introduction to Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker, as narrated by the inanimate objects surrounding the life and serious injury of a British soldier in Afghanistan.

“My serial number is 6545-01-522. I was unpacked from a plastic case, pulled open, checked and reassembled. A black marker wrote BA5799 O POS on me and I was placed in the left thigh pocket of BA5799’s combat trousers. I stayed there; the pocket was rarely unfastened. I spent eight weeks, two days and four hours in the pocket. I wasn’t needed yet. I slid against BA5799’s thigh, back and forth, back and forth, mostly slowly but sometimes quickly, bouncing around. And there was noise: bangs and cracks, high-pitched whines, shouts of excitement and anger. One day I was submerged in stagnant water for an hour.”

It’s a literary device that not only moves the narrative angle but is oddly intimate – for example, telling parts of the story from the perspective of a piece of medical equipment – or oddly chilling: for example, telling another part from the unthinking viewpoint of a military drone.

It gives narrative distance.  The objects telling the story don’t make judgements: their job is simply to observe, to record the facts.  But the sum total is a story of courage; a story of combat in a distant country, and a fight to survive after appalling injury.

It may not be a new story, but its distinctive narrative make for a book that is compassionate and memorable.

Thank you Charlie!

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  1. I'm looking forward to seeing your review of his novel coming up in December. I'm not entirely sure about there being everything already written and new perspectives being the only way forward. It's possible, but I also like to never say never :D But this does sound like a new perspective that is interesting enough to make this book a unique one!

    1. Yes, having read this Guest Review I'm tempted to get the Harry Parker book myself!