Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Junior Officers' Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey

This is an astounding book. Often incoherent, and with no real narrative architecture (it is one damn discomfort after another), it nonetheless relentlessly articulates what it is to be a modern British army officer. Sometimes it is eloquent, often it is moving, and frequently it is funny. It is also often horrifying.

How do i know that it is true?

Truth comes by way of authority, the author's most important weapon, whether he is making things up or writing poetry or describing what it is like to travel in a stripped-down and up-gunned Land Rover. And authority derives from the deep consideration of one's experience. The consideration is as important as the experience. When Coleridge wrote This Lime Tree Bower from his sick bed he was describing a simple walk. The power, indeed the very meaning of the poem is derived from the depth of his knowledge - his consideration - of the walk he is not taking. The overwhelming impression one gets in reading this book is that the author is drinking experience to its very dregs, and knows that to do so it has to be considered.

It is a humane, literate, revealing, troubling, funny and exciting book. And at the risk of sounding pious, pompous or po-faced, it is also humbling.

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