Harry Parker 2016 Faber and Faber
From the Cover –
Captain Tom Barnes is leading British troops in a war zone. Two boys are growing up there, sharing a prized bicycle and flying kites, before finding themselves separated once the soldiers appear in their countryside. On all sides of this conflict, people are about to be caught up in the violence, from the man who trains one boy to fight the infidel invaders to Barnes’s family waiting for him to return home.
We see them not as they see themselves, but as all the objects surrounding them do: shoes and boots, a helmet, a trove of dollars, a drone, that bike, weaponry, a bag of fertilizer, a medal, a beer glass, a snowflake, dog tags, an exploding IED and the medical implements that are subsequently employed.
ANATOMY OF A SOLDIER is a moving, enlightening and fiercely dramatic novel about one man’s journey of survival and the experiences of those around him. Forty-five objects, one unforgettable story.
I bought this book when it came out as part of a book club scheme. I had been reluctant and suggested to the book seller that I wished to exchange it for an alternative book, ‘oh no, why would you do that, this book is amazing,’ was the response I got so I bought the book and it sat on my shelf where it has remained until this week. Having heard some very positive words about this book from some very credible sources tweaked my curiosity, seeing it nominated for the Goldsboro Books, Glass Bell Award with some other fine works of fiction pushed the book into my hands! See the other nominees for the Glass Bell Award here
And the only thing that surprised about this book is that is it didn’t make more of an impact because that original bookseller was absolutely right, it is amazing and why on earth would anyone not want to read it.
Highly original in its content the story is told, as the blurb indicates, through the tools and equipment used by the soldier, his family, the enemy and the local community and those that save his life. Prior to reading I struggled to think how this could work, or more to the point, how this could make an interesting story, discussing it with my 13 year old son, he shared my view. Each piece of equipment tells its own story and that of whoever it is in contact with, so we learn how Captain Tom Barnes is feeling immediately after the explosion through the story of his dog tags, we gain some insight into his mother’s experiences through her handbag and we graphically learn about the surgery and the near fatalness of the post accident trauma through the Oscillating Saw used to amputate the leg.
To say this book is moving is an understatement, but the fact it is told in such a matter of fact way, coupled with the story being told out of order prevented me from becoming a blubbering wreck towards the end. It also allowed the recovery and associated struggles to play a strong part rather than being overshadowed by the explosion and the lead up to this. The strength of the author shone through for me, as I was aware he had drawn upon his own traumatic, similar experiences to write this novel. Indeed, he has suggested that telling the story this way created some distance and allowed him to tell this story.
Read more about the author here in this inspiring and informative interview from The Telegraph and please, do not be put off this book because like me you think it doesn’t sound interesting. It really is interesting, insightful, inspiring and one of the best books I have read this year!