September 1919: twenty-one year old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver some letters to Marian Bancroft. Tristan fought alongside Marian’s brother Will during the Great War, but in 1917 Will laid down his guns on the battlefield, declared himself a conscientious objector and was shot as a traitor, an act which has brought shame and dishonour on the Bancroft family.
But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He holds a secret deep in his soul. One that he is desperate to unburden himself of to Marian, if he can only find the courage.
We had our full complement of twelve this month, so there were many voices with many opinions to get through. To start, there was a general consensus that the opening few chapters were a little slow and uneventful. At first, young Tristan’s plight found some empathy with us, but this was short lived. It was not long before the majority of us found him whiny, self- absorbed and intolerably needy.
Will on the other hand, although not necessarily likable, tested our favour with his views and actions to a point that had most of us veering from extreme dislike to affable tolerance. This we decided was a clear indication of good writing and although the subject of war is not one of our favourites, we found the stark subject matter realistically portrayed with a vivid intensity that was emotionally moving.
It was no surprise that our discussion moved towards the futility and horror of war, both then and now, and what it does to not only those involved but to our society as a whole.
But the underlying themes present; homosexuality, absolutism, suppression and redemption all played a large role in bringing this story to its close.
The comment was made that Boyne, as a modern writer, was not able to inject a sense of realism to something as potent as World War One. True or not, Boyne’s story is more likely to be read by a young generation, bringing with it greater knowledge of the tragic suffering and hopefully, a distain for war.
And that, in our view can’t be a bad thing.