Last Sunday was Remembrance Day here in the UK – did any of you get poppies? – and Monday was also Armistice Day, the anniversary of the ceasefire on the Western Front in World War I… So I thought I’d recommend to you some of my favourite WWI-era novels.
1) Journey’s End by R.C. Sherriff. A play that takes place in a trench in France. It’s the story of a group of officers waiting in their dug-out for attack, and it’s a wonderful mixture of humour and tragedy. I’d actually advise seeing this on stage over reading it (since it’s a play), but if that’s not possible, then it’s definitely still worth reading. I wouldn’t usually recommend a play, since I don’t enjoy reading them so much, but when I first read this one for school, it broke my heart.
2) The Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. This one is a very different take on WWI – for one thing, it’s set in an alternative universe, where the Central “Clanker” Powers of Germany and Austo-Hungary fight using steampunk machines against the “Darwinist” Allied powers of the UK, France and Russia, who have genetically engineered animals to use as soldiers and battleships, and the like. The story follows two protagonists: A fictional son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, called Aleksander, and a young girl called Deryn, who disguises herself as a boy in order to join the British Air Service. It’s also beautifully illustrated, if you like your books with pictures!
3) Lastly, there’s Regeneration by Pat Barker, a novel that follows the relationship between the two poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, when they were in hospital together in 1917, from the perspective of their doctor. I haven’t actually read the book myself, but there was an excellent film adaptation made in 1997 (called Behind the Lines in the US), which I watched a few years ago and loved. The book has two sequels, as well: The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road (neither of which I know anything about…).