Covenant With Death, by John Harris

Mark Fenner is a journalist who, along with many of his friends, volunteers for service in 1916. The book, told from his point of view, follows him as he goes throught his training, and then ultimately arrives in France, to take part in the Battle of the Somme.

After reading a series of books about WW2, this is my first WW1 novel. Probably I'll be reading Birdsong soon.

This wasn't quite what I had been expecting - I'd assumed that the majority of the book would focus on the experiences of trench warfare and the horror of battle. But in fact most of the book concerned the what happened in the lead up to the fighting, which didn't start until about two-thirds through.

The writing wasn't fantastically good - although since it was written in the first person, perhaps Harris deliberately toned down the style. But Fenner made a plausible narrator, who I liked. And the story was quite gripping.

The main thing that came over was how useless the planning was for the fighting. I'd sort of assumed the picture of idiotic generals sending troops to certain death as portrayed in Blackadder IV was exaggerated for comic effect, but if this book is anything to go by, that's what it was like.

Worth reading then, but not really as good as Das Boot or Bomber.

Re-read this book (as an audiobook) in 2015. This time, I re-read it after it was mentioned on A Good Read.

Well, that was a first: I came to write the review of this, opened the file, and found I'd already written a review 5 years. I'd completely forgotten ever having read this (and even now I can't remember). Maybe it was because this time I listened to the audiobook. Certainly the guy reading was pretty good - his accents really brought things to life.

Without reading what I said before, the things that struck me this time were how eager they were to sign up, and the way that they were jostling at the recruitment office, frightened that the regiment would be full before they got to the front of the queue.

The whole thrust of the book was about how much time they spent in training, and how quickly it was all over. This had come across in the Radio 4 programme, so I wasn't surprised by this.

I did feel that the writing wasn't that great. It is obviously a fantastic story, but I think that the author could have done with a bit more careful editing. He often repeated words, which came across clumsily. E.g.

There was an air of though people were beginning to suspect that...
The houses were drab, their air of drabness increased by ....
There was an indignant expression on his face. "What do you mean?" he said indignantly
I immediately thought of Helen. And all sorts of optimistic thoughts crossed my mind

This started being a bit irritating after a while, more so because once I noticed it I kept noticing more.

I also felt the love-story with Helen was a little bit too predictable.

Worth reading though.

Completed : 18-Apr-2010

Completed : 13-Apr-2015 (audiobook)

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