No Man’s Land

Simon Tolkien. Doubleday/Talese, $28.95 (592p) ISBN 978-0-385-54197-8
Inspired by his grandfather J.R.R.’s experiences during World War I, Tolkien (Final Witness) has written a satisfying bildungsroman. Adam Raine is born in poverty in London but rises slightly when, due to a series of circumstances, he is brought to the estate of mine owner Sir John Scarsdale, to be raised alongside his spoiled son, Brice, who becomes Adam’s instant enemy. Adam eventually attends Oxford and becomes engaged to Miriam Vale, a pastor’s daughter from back home. But his happiness is interrupted by the advent of war. Adam goes off with Scarsdale’s coal miners and fights on the Somme, where he finds that the true enemy isn’t the Germans, but the stupidity and shortsightedness of the officer class. Returning home on leave, Adam, haunted by what he has seen and done in the trenches, finds that he can no longer relate to Sir John and Miriam. He makes a fateful decision regarding Miriam and returns to the war, setting in motion tragic events that last into the first year after the Armistice. The novel suffers from its melodramatic plotting and one-dimensional characterizations; Adam and Miriam are good and long-suffering, whereas Brice is as villainous as a character out of Dickens. The novel is entertaining but hardly tells us anything new about the supposed war to end all wars. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/2016
Release date: 01/24/2017
Genre: Fiction
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