“I think she was my own flesh and blood. I truly believe she was”
Weeping is not something that I’ve developed a talent for in my years of media consumption, as I am a cold cold person with a heart that is yet to be located. Where most would cry at the cinema in reaction to some good old Hollywood catharsis, you can catch me somewhere in the premier seats cackling incessantly and jostling the seats next to me. It is because of my acute emotional apathy that when a piece of media does come and tickle my blub ducts, you can be damn sure that I think it more than simply compelling.
Roger Ebert says in his review of Saving Private Ryan: “weeping is an incomplete response, letting the audience off the hook”. It is the contemplation of the work’s implications after the experience that completes the response. Weeping is immediate, the thinking is what stays resonant.
By golly this book had me thinking. And weeping. A backdrop of the agonizing realities of World War One- including visceral description of the physical detriment it brought to individuals- gives way to a thorough emotional journey for our protagonist Stephen Wraysford. The literary emphasis is on the stripping away of nature by the war, the stripping away of the natural need to care for one another as humans. These betrayals of civilisation are being carried out by both the bullets of enemies and the horrid disregard of the soldiers’ superiors. As the world around him becomes a void of indeterminable hostility, Steven is forced to find solace in memories, bloodthirst, faith in a sense of love that he has long forgotten and possibility of a higher power and purpose.
What made this piece of literature personally transformative for me was its exploration of the concepts of love. This is somewhat of a dissection of the Grecian categories of love, a written testament to how one can love a man and a woman equally as much but with the subtle nuances expertly cultivated by Faulks’ particular use of language. The initial third of the novel centres around a passionate and sexually invigorating affair that Stephen undergoes with the wife of the man he is a house guest to. In the end, after the war, Stephen ends up loving memories of this passion, men, and God where he had once had no similar affection for any.
I say that this aspect was personally transformative, and what I mean by this is that it actually showed me something about myself. I was surprised to discover that, of all the tear jerking moments, my floodgates decided to burst at a point where a dying man is talking about the love he felt for his son, and how “it was the times with just the two of [them] that were the best, the purest things on earth”.
In retrospect I have no idea why it was this notion of, in Greek terminology: storge, that cut me deeper than any other moving description of the many kinds of relationships exhibited. I am only seventeen and have not even begun to think about the concepts of generation.
That will have me thinking for a long time.
I should say, this is a rather smashing book.