I hugely enjoyed this. It seemed different, yet quite a follow-up, to "All Quiet" – addressing that book's question of how DO these young men function when they’re back in civilian life? I particularly liked the largely unspoken understanding between Birkin & Moon (about nightmares, holes in the ground etc). They have also come to resemble each other in the way they use their purported job to pursue other options, and their awareness breeds conspiracy. As Moon says, “it’s time I was off too. I’ll give you a couple of days’ start just for the look of things.” I liked the quiet humour that they are both delaying going: “You know you could do what’s left to be a done in a half-day if you cared to. One only needs to look at you, let alone the wall .” And the irony that amidst all the apparent failing to find Piers’ grave, Moon has always known exactly where it is, hence the stage management: “Tomorrow’s the day” for ‘finding’ it.
I found the uncovering fascinating and so, evidently, did the villagers! In their taciturn way, they couldn’t leave the poor man alone. He was in so many senses a “spare man” and, as such, viewed as public property. Although most of them hadn’t thought to ascertain if he was in fact spare.
I enjoyed the film too. They resisted the temptation to make it chocolate-box and it was pleasingly understated. I liked the subtlety of it. Birkin DOES achieve a measure of physical and mental healing, but not with soaring music and dewy eyes. And the healing is not with the consummated love of Mrs Keach and he does not make a name for himself that we know of and he does not settle to live in the village. This restraint in the narrative was, I was pleased to note, echoed in the film. Instead, the price Birkin paid for his healing was some new regrets and sorrows. Which, after all, is often how it works, isn’t it?
The language of the book was, for me, a delight. It had a clear and fresh sound, somehow. Not a superfluous word, from the simple yet evocative opening (“When the train stopped I stumbled out, nudging and kicking the kitbag before me.”) to the finely-balanced ending (“But this was something I knew nothing of as I lifted the loop and set off across the meadow.”). Looking back through the book, I hardly know where to start quoting. There’s too much to choose from.
I’d need a bit more plot – I’m sounding like Kirsty! - to label it a truly great book, but I felt it expanded me to have read it and it has lingered in my mind. Especially the atmosphere and the main characters. I think more of it now than I did when I read it, a little while ago. I think its relative simplicity and brevity also help to make it a more successful, faithful film.
I enjoyed the characterisation. It’s so subtle! Mrs Keach, for instance: “’Attractive?’ she repeated helplessly. Many women would have explored this.” And their relationship is so much between the words, which I liked. “That was how we talked. And, after a longer silence than usual, I would know she had gone.”
Bu please help me. I'm being slow. The ending – "he fell" – in war or off the scaffold? And is the artist the Muslim?