Her Privates We - Frederic Manning

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by error_unknown, Nov 11, 2003.

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  1. Got this book for Christmas last year, and read it recently. Absolutely top read. Treat yourself.

    Below is the Amazon Review:

    For almost seventy years, this book was only readily found in an 'expurgated' version--that is, an abridged edition published first in 1929. Manning originally published his novel privately, but when it was introduced to the public (anonymously in the first editions), his editors felt that the language was too crude and for the genteel reading public and cut the book down to fit the day's standards. It is only now that we can appreciate the true power and honesty of a book that has been overlooked for too long.
    Her Privates We is not a story of war so much as it is the story of men involved in that war--it is only in the final chapters that any real battle scenes take place. For the majority of the book, we are treated to an account of the life of Private Bourne (Manning himself in a literary disguise) during the five months of the Battle of the Somme (July-November, 1916), one of the most tragic and deadliest battles of World War One. To really explain the plot would be to give away the true experience of reading the book, but I guarantee, there is no account of World War One that can be compared to this work. It is unique and as relevant today as it was in 1929.
    There is no attempt at hero-worship or empty patriotism in Manning's work. He telling the story of a group of men trapped in a world for which they were never prepared, and their humanity shines through it all. Their language is coarse, their opinions of the war, women, their fellow soldiers differ, but ultimately, they are all in the same Hell and are bonded together in a desperate hope of survival. Manning's is one of the few War works that does not follow the Victorian pattern for novels (hence why it is seldom mentioned in reviews of war literature). He is not trying to help his readers escape, but rather forcing them to face the reality they had created.
    It is clear, even in his prose, that Manning was a skilled poet. Throughout the novel, there are flashes of beauty in the writing itself:

    "She knew nothing of their subterranean, furtive, twilight life, the limbo through which, with their obliterated humanity, they moved as so many unhoused ghosts, or the aching hunger in those hands that reached, groping tentatively out of their emptiness, to seek some hope or stay."

    As well as humor. After a paticularily confused conversation with a French woman with whom they have been billeted, Bourne's superior complains to him:

    "I wish to God I knew a bit o' French" said the corporal earnestly.
    "I wish to God you wouldn't mix the little you do know with Hindustanti," said Bourne.

    The incredible humanity in this book has seldom been paralleled, even in modern literature. Manning's genuis has been overlooked for too long and it is time that his masterpiece was rediscovered to teach a new generation what war is really like.


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  2. You gettin' all soft and poetic on us Convoy? 8O
     
  3. Neg Plant Pilot

    Just a top quality book for any serving or ex member of the forces. When you read it, you'll realise that the Tom on the ground hasn't changed for the best part of a century, same fears, same hopes, same arrseholes fcuking you about. Stick it on your Chrimbo list and enjoy

    Cheers

    C_C
     
  4. X-Inf

    X-Inf War Hero Book Reviewer

    Another book in a similar vein is 'Covenant with Death'. I have forgotten the author but think it was John Harris. Anyway, it deals with a 'Pals' battalion formed in WW1 and takes them from their training through to 1 July 1916. The two main characters are the regular soldier, the CSM, and one of the pals through whom the story is told. The theme of the book is that the regular sees in this person the ability to be a good soldier but the hero does not want to be and continues to refuse promotion preferring to stay in the main body.

    It is many years since reading this so I don't know if it is still in print but it describes really well the training (or lack of it), th enthusiasm of the battalion and country as a whole finishing with the wholesale death & destruction of the Battalion - hence the title of the book.

    Lots of pages but a really good read.
     
  5. Not forgetting Hay's "The First Hundred Thousand" - again, WWI from workup to battle.
     
  6. Yep, 'Covenant With Death' was by John Harris, a cracking read indeed. 'Her Privates We' can also be found under the title 'The Middle Parts of Fortune', which I think is the abridged version with all the swearing taken out.

    Personally, my all-time favourite book about the Great War fcuk up is 'Goodbye To All That' by Robert Graves, who at the time was a subaltern in the Royal Welch.