Waugh really, really needed an editor. There is an outrageously racist depiction of a black witch doctor, used by the British secret services to put a hex on Hitler — so desperate are the British to win the war or rather not lose it they try the occult. This witch doctor is the go-to abortionist as well. Of course.
Big or small, you can be sure that pretty much every character except Guy gets their comeuppance one way or another. Who cares? There were far too many types in this book and not nearly enough human beings. The few soldiers who emerge from the background khaki blur are doughty Tommies of the Dunkirk mold, dogged and loyal and etc. All three books have a decidedly different feel to them and an only tenuous cohesiveness.
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There are fine moments — Waugh is, at his best, an unquestionably powerful writer although I have come to believe he was better as a travel writer than a novelist. The best part of the book has to do with the defense and evacuation of Crete by British, Commonwealth, and Greek forces. Waugh was actually there, and the hot, dusty, exhausting work of running away as opposed to actually fighting reads with real authority. The end of the book, when Guy is sent to Yugoslavia to work with the anti-Nazi partisans is also fairly well done — the partisans are not made to look utterly ridiculous, which surprised me, they being so foreign.
Sword of Honour
This is the kind of novel that makes me not really want to read novels for another six months or so. An immensely entertaining and thought provoking account of one man's experience in WWII. Despite Guy Crouchback's thinly veiled fictional version of Evelyn Waugh best efforts to "do his part" to he is destined to always be on the periphery of the war.
Contributing, but not very heroically. Even when he finds himself in the thick of things Battle of Crete. May his experience is as a glorified message boy. He is constantly walking from one post to another during the battle. An officer wit An immensely entertaining and thought provoking account of one man's experience in WWII. An officer without troops. No chance to make his mark. In the end though Guy's unspectacular wartime career ends up working out for the best. He is spared being horrifically wounded and maimed, he isn't shattered by his experiences and ,of course, he lives.
I've never read Evelyn Waugh before. Like millions of other Americans I've seen the television mini-series of Brideshead Revisited , but this is the first time I've read any of his work. Though I know that others have expressed a distaste for Waugh's satire and prose I found myself likely it almost instantly.
I don't know if the upper class and middle class of England were really like this, but I had a great time nevertheless. I felt as if I was in an Agatha Christie story and went left when Hercule Poirot went right and found myself in the study with Waugh and his creations. There is humor and gravity in this novel. Waugh combines the two elements and it works very well. I'm impressed. This is not a glorification of the war or the generation that had to participate in it.
People are just people. Some are heroic while others are cowardly. Often at the same time. Competence and incompetence go hand in hand. Though there is the exaggeration that is to be expected of a work of fiction ,especially a satirical work of fiction, the descriptions of the sheer boredom and ennui and the chaos of "Action Now" are dead on. Armies exist to fight wars and wars are both ludicrous and deadly serious. Waugh realized this and he does an excellent job bringing this dichotomy to life. You probably won't get beyond the first fifty pages.
However if you're wanting to read a novel about how one of the greatest catastrophes in Human history effected the small island of England people, society,Catholic church and so on I think you'll enjoy "Sword of Honor". The dystopian and satirical world of and unprepared England World War II If this were just a review of the ineffective, jaundiced, sarcastic snobbish, effete England portrayed by Evelyn Waugh throughout the Sword of Honor Trilogy, this would be a 4 star review. It is depressing when it is not negative when it seems to fail to see any part of England before, during or after World War II as a home to honest, good hearted or even competent people.
However Waugh writes well. He builds his story on cr The dystopian and satirical world of and unprepared England World War II If this were just a review of the ineffective, jaundiced, sarcastic snobbish, effete England portrayed by Evelyn Waugh throughout the Sword of Honor Trilogy, this would be a 4 star review.
He builds his story on crafted paragraphs and a highly directed story arc. I have no complaints about his craftsmanship as an artist nor can I entirely discount his version of England in World War II. I also do not think he has any sense of fairness and seems to be pining for a long ago world before we all started going to the dogs.
Those good old days never existed. Guy Crouchback is given to us as a stranger in his own land. He is from a family well on its way from a knightly and powerful house to one that may end with him. He is never portrayed as especially bright, well trained, athletic or creative. He is an average kind of well off Englishman Everyman. We join him as he returns from a failed venture as a planter in Africa and a mostly do nothing kind of guy living on the last of family money at a family manor house in a less well known part of Italy.
Although at 37 he is a bit old to become an Army Officer connections get him into an officer training unit of an ancient and elite formation of halberds. He and his fellow halberd suffer all of the confusion and inefficiencies any people inside of a large organization, under extreme tests may encounter. There is only the slightest indication that anyone in the army or in the civilian world is bringing into the war the last of prior better days.
No one except his wise father is much more than minimally right for the duties attendant to the successful prosecution of a war. There is much bumbling about and some high and low humor. The battle of the Private Privy is a well construct mix of both at one time. Elsewhere the satire become so heavy handed as to be sarcasm. Guy has nothing good to say about America, and little good to say about England or her common wealth soldiery. As much as I like Waugh the story teller, my patience came to an end reading his Synopsis that precedes the third book, Unconditional Surrender.
For Guy to reject all things Communist and especially Russian Communist is legitimate. What I find so terrible is that there is no similar moral outrage at Hitler or Nazism. It is well documented that in the years leading up to the German invasion of Russia, many on the political left had unending excuses in favor of Communism. Those that were not merely wrong-headed excuses would prove to be wrong headed and hypocritical. What is rarely discussed is the number of usually upper crust British, and not a few powerful Americans who would have continued to appease Hitler, even at the expense of ending all of the liberties of the English speaking peoples.
Either Waugh or at least his narrator seem to be incapable of submitting Nazism to the same degree of critical analysis as is used to against the failure of Russian Communism. View all 10 comments. May 20, David Prestidge rated it it was amazing. In my opinion, the masterwork of 20th century English fiction. There was a fine and now lost TV version in the 60s, with Edward Woodward as Crouchback, and host of character actors, including Ronald Fraser as Apthorpe playing the supporting parts, and an all-too-brief version for TV with Daniel craig as Crouc In my opinion, the masterwork of 20th century English fiction.
There was a fine and now lost TV version in the 60s, with Edward Woodward as Crouchback, and host of character actors, including Ronald Fraser as Apthorpe playing the supporting parts, and an all-too-brief version for TV with Daniel craig as Crouchback. The nuances, the subtleties, the acute observations of English social niceties and the bitterness that unites and divides us are almost impossible to portray on screen.
In terms of characterisation, Crouchback is almost but not quite a non-entity. He bestrides the novel almost as a catalyst for all the other characters to react to. The novel is genuinely funny, but the humour is usually the humour of cruelty. If you have tears to shed, shed them now - the death of Apthorpe is heartbreaking. There is real warmth - the great recurring shape of Colonel 'Jumbo' Trotter lumbers through the novel, popping up now and again like a lost but welcome friend.
There is political intrigue, religious bigotry, heroism, deception, cynicism on an almost industrial scale, but it remains right at the top of my 'never-be-seaparated-from' list View 1 comment. This is Evelyn Waugh's final edited version of the Sword of Honour trilogy. If you're interested in reading the trilogy, you really should read this version, as the book is really one long, continuous story with the same characters throughout, and some apparently tedious passages have been edited out.
Highly recommended by me as well. Mar 22, Ed rated it it was amazing. Recommended to me by one of my high school teachers who had lived the same sort of muddled war time experience. A good parallel to Anthony Powell's account of the war in the volumes of his Dance to the Music of Time sequence that cover the war.
An incredible achievement as a work of art. What a cast of characters and story, across the Second World War, from the outbreak to the end. Jun 08, Roger Brunyate rated it it was amazing Shelves: ww2 , comedy-sorta. Waugh's Final Words Essentially, this is Waugh's swansong: three novels about the adventures of his quasi-autobiographical hero, Guy Crouchback, in the Second World War, gathered together by him and edited into a single volume at the end of his life. This is a compendium of my separate Amazon reviews of the individual volumes as I read them, followed by a brief consideration of the Trilogy as a whole.
Men at Arms Amazon suggested Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, the novel sequence th Waugh's Final Words Essentially, this is Waugh's swansong: three novels about the adventures of his quasi-autobiographical hero, Guy Crouchback, in the Second World War, gathered together by him and edited into a single volume at the end of his life. Men at Arms Amazon suggested Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, the novel sequence that crowned the author's career, as something of similar interest to Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time , which I am engaged on currently.
Whereas Powell covers three decades in twelve volumes, Waugh treats half a decade in three—a fiction distilled from his own checkered experiences as a somewhat older officer in the Second World War. I have not reached the equivalent period in the Powell yet, but I find it hard to believe that he could be anything like as immediate, touching, or downright funny as Waugh. For Waugh is a satirist, but a satirist with serious concerns and an unusually realistic touch.
For although this clearly falls into the general category of army comedies—a frustrating saga of administrative snafus and occasional action—it also comes over as a convincing account of how things must have felt as Britain was muddling through that deceptive period of the "phony war" before complacency got shattered at Dunkirk. Waugh's protagonist, Guy Crouchback, is 36 when this first novel opens. A scion of an aristocratic Catholic family that has fallen on bad times, he has spent most of his adult life as an expatriate, first in Kenya and later in Italy.
Returning home to "do his bit," he finds most doors closed to a man of his age. But a friend of his father's gets him a probationary commission in the Halberdiers, an unusual outfit combining ancient regimental pride with an unconventional approach to training and leadership. Glad though I am never to have been mixed up in anything like this myself, I found the descriptions of mess life and daily routine to be quite fascinating. Guy's position as an older volunteer allows the reader to look on as a voyeur, even as Guy is giving himself heart and soul to his new family.
For this is what I think the book is really about: belonging. Guy has suffered numerous losses: one brother to the previous war, another to suicide, the family home to debt, his years in Kenya and Italy lost to circumstance, and his wife to divorce. He is a Catholic in a predominantly Anglican world. He is looking for something or someone to give him a family, an identity, a place to belong. He finds this, at least at first, in the Halberdiers.
Anyone who remembers their first days in a new school will feel for him, but also smile. For by a masterstroke, Waugh contrasts Guy with another older volunteer, an old Africa hand named Apthorpe, who speaks all the lingo, knows all the ropes, possesses all the right equipment. It takes a while for us to see Apthorpe as a comic figure, the boastful miles gloriosus that he is—the saga of his "thunderbox" or private portable toilet is a masterpiece of farce—but meanwhile Guy's failure to move up so quickly has got to hurt.
Yet it is Guy who is involved in real action at the end, in a sequence off the coast of Dakar that is both the culmination of his real military abilities and the end of his love affair with the regiment. It is a very funny book, but with the sad tinge of truth.
Officers and Gentlemen Let me state the negatives first. This, the middle novel of Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, is not a book I would recommend reading out of context. Although the references to the first novel, Men at Arms , are mostly incidental, they are frequent and often unexplained. The first volume was held together by the story of its protagonist, year-old Guy Crouchback, finding his way into a temporary commission with a rather unusual regiment, the Halberdiers, in the first years of WW2.
Here, however, Guy disappears for long stretches. Readers of the first volume will recognize secondary characters as old colleagues from the Halberdiers mess, or subsequent husbands or lovers of Guy's divorced wife, but without those connections the first half of the novel may seem rather diffuse.
Fortunately the ending makes up for it. A major theme of the novel is contained in the title. Officers and Gentlemen, in popular speech, are supposed to be synonymous. But in wartime, not necessarily so. Guy, as minor aristocracy and a quietly resourceful soldier, is decidedly both.
But much of the focus of the first part of the book is given to an operator called Trimmer. A former hairstylist, he is certainly no gentleman, and pretty useless as an officer too. Yet he happens to fill the bill for a nation starved for heroes, and after a farcical episode has been inflated into a selfless act of derring-do, he finds himself promoted far beyond his deserts.
But gentlemen can fail as officers also; there is at least one character of impeccably blue blood who lets the side down rather badly.
Sword of Honor () - IMDb
Although he never seems to win the laurels, Guy is the rare touchstone by which most of the others are measured and found wanting. The novel begins in the world of P. Wodehouse: upper-class twits exchanging vapid repartee in London clubs. Soon this changes to satire of a different sort, making fun of the self-perpetuating bureaucracy of warfare, where everyone and everything is referred to by an alphabet soup of initials.
The comedy would probably mean more in the postwar years when people were still reeling from a surfeit of such absurdities; at times it seems almost like a British version of Catch But then at the halfway point, the tone changes. Guy, as a member of a commando outfit called Hookforce, gets sent to Crete just too late to prevent the German invasion. This part is almost autobiographical, and it shows.
Waugh himself, as part of a similarly-named force, was one of the last to escape Crete before the final surrender. Suddenly the picture of the chaos of war becomes horribly true. The tone of comedy remains, but it is no longer distinguishable from the real thing, for war itself can out-satirize any satire. The last third of the book is a magnificent achievement that almost compensates for the diffuseness of the opening, and most certainly sets the stage for the final volume. The End of the Battle I have to express disappointment, though, that this final volume was not published in the USA under its original title, Unconditional Surrender.
Perhaps that sounded too negative for a book set in the last years of the Second World War, but despite their superficially happy endings, Waugh's novels do typically have a dying fall. Besides, the original title has many meanings beyond the military one. It might refer to the protagonist Guy Crouchback's acceptance of his situation in the wartime army, seeing many less able men promoted around and above him.
It might refer to his ex-wife Virginia's surrender to the Catholic faith, part of a gentle transformation that develops the character far beyond her former role as a femme fatale and plot complication. It might describe the elegiac atmosphere surrounding the funeral of Guy's elderly father, which makes a central set-piece of some seriousness. And it certainly refers to the book's final sections, when Guy is sent to monitor mopping-up operations in Yugoslavia, as bands of partisans fight other bands, with an eye less to the imminent elimination of the Germans, than to positioning themselves in the postwar world, with respect to communism and the underlying ethnic tensions that we have seen flare up in recent years.
This is one section of the book that does not seem at all dated. One senses that contemporary readers would recognize the peripatetic civilian Sir Ralph Brompton, who manages to have a finger in every pie. They would know the questionable merits of the literary magazine "Survival," published with government funds. And when Guy's Corporal-Major Ludovic from Officers and Gentlemen devotes the last years of his war to producing a mammoth best-selling novel, contemporary readers would have had one or two candidates in mind. Still, these are minor lacunae.
What makes the novel work for me are two moral threads running through its episodic structure. One is political and muted: the dilemma of taking as an ally a country Russia which, in every respect other than its anti-fascism, seems the moral antithesis of traditional English values. The other is personal and deep-seated. Struck at his father's funeral by a sense of his own uselessness, Guy prays that God will give him "the chance to do some small service which only he could perform, for which he had been created.
That neither opportunity has an entirely perfect ending, and that the final pages of this comedy have a distinctly tragic tinge, only adds to the moral weight which ultimately ballasts its often-irritating flippancy.
I find myself torn between two conflicting views. One is the attitude that I expected to have, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is, as I said, Waugh's swansong, that he took the trouble to revise and publish as a single whole at the end of his life; many of these revisions have been un-revised in the present edition, however, but the details are relatively minor. Reading the three books in swift succession is greatly preferable to reading either of the later volumes separately, since characters and events are continued from one novel to another without much explanation.
Characters who appear trivial in any one novel gain stature when you are more aware of their continuing presence in the background. Certainly the scope of the three novels, from to with a brief postlude in , makes this an incredibly valuable view of Britain at the time of the Second World War, especially as it is seen less glamorously but more typically from a point of view largely on the sidelines. There are also larger social themes, such as the decline of aristocratic privilege and the loss of moral clarity in warfare, that resonate better in a symphony than a sonata.
But I am also disturbed by the opposite sense, that the parts may be more satisfactory than their sum. For one thing, there is a certain repetition of pattern between the three volumes. Approximately two-thirds of each show the protagonist, Guy Crouchback, rattling around in Britain, attached to various military outfits. At the end of each volume, he is engaged as the author himself was in some inconclusive military exercise: an aborted raid on Dakar in , the allied withdrawal from Crete in , and the last months of the war in Yugoslavia.
The second and third of these are magnificent pieces of writing, but they only point out the comparative lack of continuity in the first part of each book, which is especially problematic in the second of them. Then there is the question of tone. Frank Kermode, in his magnificent introduction to the Everyman Classics edition, writes: "Here in his final work there run together the two styles, of mischief and gravity, that can be noted in his writing from the beginning.
I have the feeling that, for readers who had been through the War and seen its absurdities, injustices, and unexpected rewards, the Trilogy would have read as a hilarious and immediately recognizable satire.
Benefits of the Sword and Globe of Honour awards
Seventy years on, however, many of the targets require footnoting, and some of Waugh's running gags such as the ubiquitous appearance of an apparently never-promoted American Lieutenant of unspecified attachment, known as "the Loot" just seem silly. Where the connecting thread is one of personal self-discovery, as it is in the first volume, or a gathering moral dilemma as in the third, these comic sections do have some momentum. But it is a balancing act that may be harder to maintain today than when the books were first written.
Sarah Booth Great review! Sep 20, PM. Nov 26, Val rated it it was amazing Shelves: group. There could be some debate about whether this is Waugh's crowning masterpiece; I think it is. It is certainly his most personal book. He pours into it his wartime experiences, his faith, his disillusionment with the modern world, and his thoughts and feelings about all of them. Even in his non-fiction he kept a greater emotional distance than he does here. The books have different themes, which together make the story of Guy Crouchback's war. It is a trilogy and each book could be read separately There could be some debate about whether this is Waugh's crowning masterpiece; I think it is.
It is a trilogy and each book could be read separately. Men at Arms is satirical. We follow an idealistic Guy as he leaves his Italian castle, visits a crusader saint and sets off to England to fight for his country, Christian values as he sees them and his honour. At first his country does not seem to want him, but eventually he becomes a trainee officer in an old and very traditional regiment. He does not have an exciting war, the Nazis overrun northern Europe before he gets to France and there is a lot of apparently pointless moving about and changes of orders. Guy and a few soldiers from the regiment take part in an unauthorised minor scuffle near Dakar, but most of the time he is waiting around in various places for something to happen.
There are lots of wonderful comic characters and incidents, so although Guy is bored or confused much of the time, the reader is not. There are some details of the military action itself, but the book is more concerned with how people behave under pressure. There is much less humour in this book than the first one, as suits its story of the realities of war. Guy and the story become increasingly cynical. There are several side stories which add to the overall theme of how so many people's behaviour falls short of ideal, although his rather lovely elderly father acts impeccably throughout.
I don't think Mr Crouchback is based on Arthur Waugh, although he did die in , perhaps he is more a Father, priest, than a father, parent. Waugh gives the greater share of blame for the rise of the 'lower orders' to the failure of the officers, leaders, aristocracy, etc. Guy as was Evelyn is ideologically opposed to atheist communism and wonders what Britain is really fighting for any more. He is not much keener on Britain's other new allies, the USA, every American Guy meets behaves badly, apart from a General who is merely credulous and completely ignorant of a country he is about to foster a civil war in.
There is a lot more hanging about away from the fighting and a little wartime action when Guy is chosen to liaise with the Yugoslav Partisans, who are suspicious, opportunistic and not as effective as they claim. The theme of this third and final book is mainly about faith. Guy has lost his 'grand cause' but tries to make personal acts of faith, following his father's advice. One of these is to try to arrange the evacuation of some Jews, imprisoned by the Italians, many massacred by Ustashi forces, saved from the Nazis by the Partisans, only to be distrusted and despised and now in dire poverty.
He has some success, although mostly indirectly, but inadvertently causes the arrest and probable death of one of them with a gift of some old US magazines. This mirrors an earlier incident in the first book, where he had contributed to the death of a hospitalised friend by the gift of a bottle of whisky. Poor Guy has always tried to do the right thing, to do his best, and it has so very rarely come to anything positive. At the end of the trilogy Guy himself is more content. As a result of another of Guy's acts of faith the old order, represented by Guy, his father and his uncle, will die out and the son of a fraud and a hedonist will inherit.
Evelyn Waugh was rather less content with the post-war world than Guy. Apr 10, Beth Cato rated it liked it Shelves: in , historical , , fiction. The main character is Guy Crouchback, the last son in a rather prestigious English Catholic family. He's spent a great deal of time living in his family villa in Italy, but has nothing else to show for himself. His wife left him years ago and has since had a string of husbands.
As England readies for the second World War, Guy sees his opportunity to be of some use. After much finagling, he ends up in the Halberdiers amongst some very colorful characters. Guy isn't a very vivid character, and he seems very aware of that. It's very much a s literary novel - lots of description, and a gradual, plodding pace.
I liked it well enough to continue on to the next volume. There is something appealing about the writing and I can't quite determine what it is. After settling the affairs for a deceased colleague, Guy ends up on the Isle of Mugg, working alongside his wife's second husband. Guy still feels adrift, not really belonging to any regiment, and is rather excited when the opportunity for action arises. The outcome is not what he expects, and he begins to understand the devastating nature of defeat - and that it's possible that England may not win the war after all.
Guy is not a deep character. There is a sort of gentle Britishness to the whole thing. He trains as a parachutist with the intent of using his Italian language skills to work with partisans. Meanwhile, his former wife Virginia is in a bit of a predicament, and it turns out she may be interested in Guy again after all - especially since his father just died and left a tidy sum. Bombs continue to fall on London, planes crash elsewhere, and Guy persists doing his utmost for the cause. I enjoyed the historical aspect of the series, and the dialogue was delightful.
But overall? I can't really recommend them unless the reader is a big WWII enthusiast or wants to read all the British classics. I enjoyed this novel immensely. I've previously read Brideshead Revisited , which I enjoyed, but not immensely. Sword of Honour is much more fun. Waugh has the ability to depict a character swiftly, allow us to enjoy him for a few pages, and then to drop him for later. Such is Colonel Ritchie-Hook, a superbly comic character. He's one of those old soldiers who is completely full of himself, and yet whom we seem to love anyway.
Waugh's ear for a character's voice, and his talent for comedy are bot I enjoyed this novel immensely. Waugh's ear for a character's voice, and his talent for comedy are both brought to bear in Ritchie-Hook. A more serious theme in the novel is the plight of English Catholics. If Waugh is correct, and I'm sure he is, many English Catholics of the mid-twentieth-century conformed to their faith in the same way their Church of England contemporaries did--that is, it was merely a social convention with a quaint history.
There's no transformative love of Christ, no love brimming over in a desire to serve the poor--nothing like that. Consequently, the protagonist, Guy Crouchback, is empty. He's looking for meaning, for an opportunity to pour himself out in a cause that's greater than himself. The conventional means of doing this escape him because he's essentially without roots of any kind.
He's a lot like Charles Ryder in Brideshead , who finds true meaning only on the last page of the novel. I bet Guy finds something similar, but in the heightened circumstances of war. Come to think of it, at the end of Brideshead , Charles has joined the British Army, and is about to serve in World War 2, so Sword of Honour is a kind of sequel, in that sense. Not, of course, in the sense of the spiritual journey--which is complete for Charles, but just beginning for Guy. The ending is problematic in a good way, in the sense that Waugh shows how the victory of the Allies in World War II depended making a pact with evil--Stalinist Russia.
This is something that I had never considered before. Sword of Honour follows Guy Crouchback, the scion of an ancient English aristocratic Catholic family, as he enters into the service of his King in what he sees as a crusade against the evil manifestations of modernism; Fascism and Communism. What actually transpires is at the same time a highly amusing satire of Regimental life in the fictitious 'Royal Corps of Halberdiers' and the myriad of 'special forces' raised during the Second World War for raids and special service, as well as a depressin Sword of Honour follows Guy Crouchback, the scion of an ancient English aristocratic Catholic family, as he enters into the service of his King in what he sees as a crusade against the evil manifestations of modernism; Fascism and Communism.
What actually transpires is at the same time a highly amusing satire of Regimental life in the fictitious 'Royal Corps of Halberdiers' and the myriad of 'special forces' raised during the Second World War for raids and special service, as well as a depressing showcase of the new West forged from the rubble of War that forever abolished the little good that survived the Great War.
As Guy faces personal tragedy, failure, and at times success, the world around him is molded into a wholly foreign design than that which he and his contemporaries knew. Waugh's personal experience in the War are retold almost exactly through Guy, with the result of providing one of the most compelling accounts of modern war available today. Jul 24, Charles Samuels rated it it was amazing. I don't often laugh out loud when reading but Waugh's masterful wit and chummy irony got to me on more than one occasion. Characters like Apthorpe and Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook are what really set this novel apart in my mind.
Wherever their names appear you know something is about to go down. Even though the novels are drenched in wit and irony, this is by no means a comedy but a rather complex drama set across a vast social, psychological, and spiritual tapestry. I didn't really know what to m I don't often laugh out loud when reading but Waugh's masterful wit and chummy irony got to me on more than one occasion.
I didn't really know what to make of it until the last dozen pages where, by using eight simple words, the whole thing came together in one enormous flood. This was quite possibly one of the most unique and enjoyable experiences I've had with a book. War in literature may be glorious or terrible, and is often both. In Sword of Honour, it's neither.
It is absurd, arbitrary, and very often, desperately tedious. Waugh mined his own wartime experiences for this trilogy of novels which he later edited into one page epic, so the book has a certain amount of weight, both metaphorically and literally. It comes with his trademark cynicism, his acute sense of the ridiculous, but also with an authenticity born of experience. It's slightly uneven, n War in literature may be glorious or terrible, and is often both.
It's slightly uneven, no surprise in a book of this length, and it is suffused by Waugh's obsession with the Roman Catholic Church, which rather dilutes its forcefulness as an account of the war. Fans of Waugh's earlier novels may also find it not as consistently funny, though there are plenty of passages and episodes that made me laugh out loud. And - let's get it out the way - there are undertones of racism in a few isolated chapters that may be problematic for a modern reader, not to mention Waugh's extreme social conservatism, which expresses itself in a sense that the post-war world - the world of jazz, the National Theatre, and women in trousers - is self-evidently inferior to what came before.
So why read it? Because it gives such an unusual perspective on the War, dwelling in immense detail on elements of it that are usually ignored, and sidelining what we tend to see as its pivotal events. The characters Waugh follows are not involved in any of the War's most celebrated or notorious battles. They spend very little of their time fighting at all. Instead, they are subjected to an endless purgatorial cycle of training and retraining, being promoted and demoted again, moving from one army unit to another, getting injured in accidents and recovering, waiting patiently but with increasing desperation to engage in some sort of meaningful action, always being frustrated.
And we realise that for millions who fought in the War, life must have been exactly like this a lot of the time. We might have expected fear and courage, grief and triumph - but in Sword of Honour the overriding emotion of many of the characters is a crushing ennui. War, as portrayed here, amounts to maddeningly long stretches of tedium for the characters: Waugh makes them hilarious for the reader relieved by flurries of action that seem to achieve no useful purpose.
The only extended episode of actual military activity that Waugh chooses to dramatise is the Allies' unsuccessful defence of Crete. As portrayed by Waugh, there is no clear beginning or end to the action, no real purpose understood by the characters, no obvious strategy and certainly no heroism. As the novel progresses towards its conclusion, we understand that the protagonist, Guy Crouchback, and some of the other characters too are afflicted with what Waugh calls a death wish. It's not so much a suicidal urge or a matter of gung-ho heroism, but a desire to replace an existence that verges on meaninglessness with a death that would at least mean something, that would be of some use, however modest.
Sword of Honour made me understand, as no other novel about war has, the frustration of not being needed when one is physically and psychologically prepared to fight; of being ready to put one's life on the line, but instead seeing one's will to live whittled away by the absurdities and boredom of military routine. This isn't a light, frothy read, but nor is it bleak - there's far too much humour for that.
It has a tone and mood all of its own, and like an interesting companion whose views we might not always share, is worth spending time with. Sep 12, Marcus rated it it was amazing. For some reason I love stories about the war. It's the same reason I adore Tintin - part itchy-foot travel fantasy, part nostalgia for a world that never was. A world divided. A legendary King. This is no Camelot and Skye is no Guinevere, but the world is dark and divided, and it does need a hero. With the government burying itself in bunkers underground and technology lost to all but a sacred few, it seems hope of that hero grows dimmer.
Skye has been waiting for a champion to come ever since brigands destroyed her home and sent her running into the hands of a despot. Even if it means taking possession of a sword possessed of magic both terrible and frightening. A sword offered by a powerful sorcerer who wants to put it into her hands. But does she have what it takes to wield its power without losing herself to it?
Or will her hesitation cost the nation in blood? If you love stories reminiscent of the Arthurian legend but saturated with apocalyptic flavors of the future, you will want to give this a try. The man sprawled across the crumbling cement courtyard in front of me was dead. That he was dead was obvious not so much from the way he stared up at the sky, but because no one would lie out in the open like that in Old Denver.
It showed a lack of interest in who or what might come upon them. Grey, if you must know. Grey and cracked and stiff like tanned leather left in the sun too long. It was part of my charm, if you could call it that. Just like the chestnut colored hair that kept sticking in my eyes, my filthy mouth, my undying penchant for the written word. That charm kept me alive and kicking in a world that was less than kind to soft, yielding women. So soft and yielding I was not. It had kept me alive each day since. New Denver, like the rest of the nation was nearly lawless. I felt for them, actually.
Not everyone was born with grit in their bones. When I returned to New Denver after years of self-imposed exile, it was my grit and charm that caught the eye of the mayor, who needed that in a personal mercenary. I was fine with that. I did his bidding to eke out that living, and I crafted a routine that would enable me to network with those amenable to keeping their own soft, loved ones safe.
That network became part of my insurance. Help them, help me, so to speak. I knew exactly how abandoned it was. It had been abandoned a generation earlier. The wilds had encroached into the streets and buildings like squatters party crashing a place too posh for them to resist. No one bothered with Old Denver when New Denver was so nicely hunkered down into the shelter of the hogbacks. One road in. One road out. Easy Peasy. Witness my standing in the doorway of the old library, chewing my lip over the problem of a freshly deceased guy right straight in line with my exit.
Few people in this god-forsaken excuse for a world cared about art or culture. It fell decades earlier when the government went underground. They had enough fantasy, gore, and horror in their lives to call it a day on the musty pages thing. I had a knapsack full of books to prove how little folks cared about reading nowadays.
I carted them off one by one to my own little library and read late at night when memories and guilt kept me awake. Which was a lot. Enough that the twice weekly sweeps strained to be increased so I could return to the library. No one behind me. No one hiding off in crumpled building corners. The way it had been for as long as I could remember. So yes. This man posed a problem. Several of them, in fact. The fact that he was there at all was out of the ordinary, and out of the ordinary called for caution.
And he was fat. No one was fat in New Denver.
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No one had enough food or enough leisure time to add bulk. Where had he been that he could put on that sort of girth? Some fae were fat. Trolls, surely. I lifted on my toes to peer over the girth of his chest to his face in the hopes of finding some giveaway characteristic or marking. He wore a black slouchy fabric cap pulled down over his ears far enough that it met his jawline and all but covered the greasy hair cascading to his shoulders.
His beard was heavy and covered in dust. Maybe I was wrong this time. I hoped so. I leaned down, pulling off my sword and scabbard so I could crouch next to him unhindered. I dropped them to the broken cement and leaned over him, tilting my ear to his mouth to be sure.
I sniffed. The faint aroma of feces stung my nostrils, overpowering that of sweat. I scanned the deserted street, taking in the broken windows and crumbling sidewalk. Several rusted vehicles from the early days hunkered along the street in lacy, curling bits of twisted brown metal.
Whatever color they had been—whatever make—was impossible to tell now. I toed his shoulder with my boot. A greyish, sticky substance mired the tip when I pulled it away. Not blood, that was for sure. I squatted down beside him, the back of my neck prickling the way it would if someone were watching me. My hand reached for my sword grip, a reaction that was as automatic as breathing.
A tatter of moldy curtain blew out into the street from a broken window two buildings down. I relaxed, propping my elbows against my knees as I studied him. Ransacked the underground looking for God knows what. Golems loved to dig. And they were antisocial. They tunneled into parts of the mountains when humans got too close. That Hunter had forced a magician to force them to dig beneath the old city was a legend that meant the Chief Justice gained almost mythical status in the nation and the golems a certain, odd respect.
It also meant you never knew when the street would collapse. I blew out a breath of sigh. If I was alone, I might as well work his clothes, try to find something useful while I decided what to do with him. A sigil, a rune, a stone. Maybe some food. Food would be good. I played a palm over the surface of his clothes. My first thought upon snagging a bit of wire was that Hunter had planted the cadaver there to bait me.
I had flashes of visions that involved things blowing up from old and sweaty dynamite or the equally aged C4 and I pulled my hands back instinctively. But that was ridiculous.