The writer Sara O’Leary (who is one of my favourite children’s book authors and has become both a sort of friend and mentor to me) was asking about people’s favourite novellas/short novels on Twitter today and it made me immediately think two things: 1) how satisfying a really well written short novel is and 2) Rebecca West‘s The Return of the Soldier. Which I read only last week.
On the surface The Return of the Soldier is about a man who has returned from the war missing 15 years of his memory so he is trapped in an era that has long since past. Really it is about the three women that this amnesia is affecting: his cousin Jenny (the narrator) who has loved him since he was a boy, his wife Kitty who seems rather vapid and whom Chris, the soldier, doesn’t remember at all, and Margaret whom Chris remembers being in a relationship 15 years earlier and who is the only person Chris thinks about when his accident happens.
The Return of the Soldier was published in 1924 so it has none of that nostalgic sentimentality that most historical fiction has about war. Indeed the war was still very much an ongoing reality when this novel was written and published. There is a lot of focus on aging and the appearance of aging in the eyes of others which, coming from a 24 year old author, seemed a little heavy handed at times, but was still something I – at 44 years of age – related to immensely. I confess to reading a lot of historical fiction set during the wars (and I enjoy it) but it is good to step out of our backward gaze and into the real time.
What are your favourite novellas? My attention span isn’t great these days so it seems like a good time to read shorter works.
(These current blog posts are part of my #100dayproject and are written quickly and posted without significant editing. They are what they are, mistakes and all. Much like me.)