Friday, July 26, 2013

The First Casualty

The First Casualty, Ben Elton

I have read a few Ben Elton books over the years and enjoyed all of them. He has an insight into humanity at its bleakest and yet manages to infuse an idea with reality, honesty and humour.

The First Casualty is set in WWI, where Douglas Kinsey has become a conscientious objector because he thinks the war is idiotic. A public pariah as a result, he is imprisoned for his beliefs.

Over in France a British officer is murdered while convalescing for shell shock. Kinsey is sent to France during the third battle of Ypres to discover what happened. Finding himself face to face with the very war he objected to be a part of, Kinsley is forced to ask himself: what does one life count when thousands die daily? What is murder? Is there a difference between one officer being intentionally killed and the many who continue to be sent into the trenches? What will you do when you come face to face with the enemy?

Elton paints a graphic and tragic picture of war. I was struck by the inanity of fighting for years over one stretch of boggy mud. It is no wonder than men return from such warfare completely changed and unable to speak of what they have seen. His portrayal of such times and the characters who live in them (officers, police, war nurses) ring true.

Elton has written 14 novels over the years, I have read his first, Stark (incredibly bleak yet humorous) and the more recent Blind Faith (a futuristic Britain overrun by social media and compulsory faith). I will look for more, I enjoy his writing and the way it makes you think.

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