Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Generals Die in Bed

This is what happens when you leave me at home all day with the task of housecleaning and with no one to talk at. I get very verbose. Actually, I always have a lot to say, there are just usually more outlets for the verbosity.

Generals Die In Bed, by Charles Yale Harrison

A couple weeks ago a coworker and I were discussing my predilection for YA fiction, and said coworker claimed not to have read a YA novel by choice, or, in fact, outside of library school at all. I promptly offered a recommendation for a book I think that coworker would love (Megiddo's Shadow, by Arthur Slade) which prompted the discovery that Generals Die In Bed is currently being marketed as a YA novel, and the claim by this coworker that Generals Die In Bed is not only the best Canadian YA novel ever written, but is, in fact, the best Canadian novel period. A heady claim. A challenge. I needed to read it. So last week, while sitting in the car dealership for a few hours waiting for my car to get its tune-up, I read the best novel candidate.

I have to say, I don' t think this is a YA novel. This is a novel that is being marketed as YA because it is something that can be studied in high school, not because it is a YA novel. I also don't think it is the best Canadian novel I've ever read. For one thing, it reads more like a memoir than a novel, and doesn't have that satisfying novelliness about it that a "best novel" requires. That being said, it was brilliant.

This was originally published in 1930, and written just prior to that, about ten years after the author himself survived fighting in the trenches of World War I. It begins in Montreal, before an unnamed young soldier ships out, with a raucous sense of hope and adventure, which quickly turns to terror and desolation as he and his comrades find themselves in France, and in the trenches. We read, in graphic detail of the lice and rats that infest the trenches, and of the combined boredom and horror of the life the soldiers lead in trench-based standoff. When our soldier is sent on a raid, and finds himself stabbing a German with his bayonet, we read an agonizingly personal account of the trauma he feels, and of the subsequent bewilderment and numbness. This is a story that could not have been written by someone who didn't experience the horrors described. It is a painfully truthful story.

This is a brilliant book. Very personal. Very raw. Something that needs to be read by anyone foolish enough to think that war is a thing to glorify. It was beautiful in its bleakness, and horrible in its harsh truths. I loved it and hated it, and don't ever want to read it again, but I'm glad to have read it the once.


faerie-writer said...

That's exactly how I felt after reading Alice Walker's 'Possessing the Secret of Joy.' I loved it and hated and never wanted to read it again, but was glad I'd read it once.

Rhea said...

I enjoy YA fiction! There are so many good YA authors out there. What are some of your favorites?

MadJenny said...

Ooh! I haven't read that one faerie-writer! Perhaps I shall try it next time I'm feeling emotionally secure enough to subject myself to literary trauma.

Rhea - there are so many great authors! If click on the "BOOKS" tag on this post it takes you to most of the reviews I've done lately. Some of my all-time favourites for YA would include Tamora Pierce, Philip Pullman, and Garth Nix. What are some of your favourites?

Rhea said...

Some of my favorites are Shannon Hale, Meg Cabot, and Rick Riordon, to name a few.