Posts Tagged ‘world war I’


The First Hundred Thousand

January 25, 2012

The First Hundred Thousand, by Ian Hay, is another of those slightly fictionalized, early-days-of-the-war books. And obviously it’s a bit depressing some of the time, but mostly it’s pretty funny.

This is an account of the training — and, later, the deployment — of a regiment of Scottish soldiers, and basically it does everything right. The humor works without Hay having to sacrifice detail, and I ended up with a much clearer idea than I’d had before about how the British Army was trained, and especially about how things worked once the troops got to the trenches.

My favorite bit, though, is “Olympus,” the chapter on the military bureaucracy, which I’m struggling to figure out how to describe without just pasting in a bunch of text. For one thing, it includes the concept of “losing a life” in a game long before video games were thought of. Mostly, though, it’s just funny — a complicated kind of funny that can’t be condensed into one-liners.

Basically, The First Hundred Thousand is humorous without being flippant, sad but not intrusively so, and very frequently clever. Several thumbs up.


Good Old Anna

January 23, 2012

Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Good Old Anna is a hard book to describe. It’s not exactly a wartime romance, except then it is, and it’s sort of a portrait of growing xenophobia in a cathedral town at the beginning of World War I, except then it’s not. And I don’t know that it ever really becomes a full-fledged spy novel. Basically, there are a lot of different threads, and Lowndes is only mostly successful at deploying them. And I’m okay with that, I think, because all those threads are pretty interesting. Good Old Anna was published in 1915, and it’s very much part of a moment.

Maybe it’s like this: most novels have plots. Some other books have themes. Good Old Anna looks like it has a plot, but really it has a theme, and the theme is Things That Happen to People When World War I Starts. Read the rest of this entry ?