Thursday, October 6, 2011

No war novel is an island.

Current book: For Whom the Bell Tolls
Pages read: 312 - 497 (end)

I read a lot, as you can see. That's because I read very, very fast. Because when nothing happens at all, it's easy to keep up with the plot points. (And I'm sick to death of this book.)

A bunch of fascist soldiers attack one of the other nearby guerrilla groups, and Augustin and Robert just have to stand by and listen, because to help would mean they wouldn't be able to complete their mission. However, this means that the enemy is more than prepared for the attack that Robert's group is supposed to be supporting with the demolition of the bridge. Robert, therefore, sends a message to the general in charge of the operation to say that it should be called off. That message makes it through, but not until moments before the attack, by which time it's already too late. (Oh, the futility of war! Alas! Alack!)

Meanwhile, Pablo betrays our friendly guerrillas by making off in the middle of the night with half the explosives and all the detonators. But it's ok, because he comes back in the morning, all contrite, with grenades, having changed his mind. So, they go out on their big operation, successfully blow up the bridge, and return. Half of them get killed, but there you go. They're attempting to make their escape, with Pablo's help, when Robert gets thrown off his horse and breaks his leg. It's a bad enough injury that there's no way he can make it out, so they leave him, with Maria weeping and protesting. He marshals his strength enough to stay alive and kill the next fascist that comes along, and, on the last page, we see him lying in wait for that solider, ready to kill him with his last dying breath.

So, my mother summed it up pretty well in yesterday's comment, "The bell is tolling for all of these characters every time they witness or participate in an act that diminishes mankind." War is terrible and futile and pointless, and half the time it's all a mistake. The young and brave waste their lives by throwing them at foolish goals determined by the old and cowardly, and no one cares. Love is extinguished by the brutality of violence, and for no good reason. Robert is completely dehumanized because of the fact that, even in the moment of his own death, he plans to kill someone else. Hooray.

I maintain that once you've read one book about war, you've read them all. This was too long and I didn't care for the style in the least. Does that make it not a good war novel? No, not really, but I'm also not sure it's a seminal work. If I hadn't already read books about war, I might feel differently, but I have, so I don't. I think the first novel I read of this nature, though, was All Quiet on the Western Front, and I didn't like that either.

It's not worthy of the list largely because it's an unnecessarily long slog and not particularly original. The Old Man and the Sea is better Hemingway. Also shorter.

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