Category Archives: novels

The prevention of war books?

In her 1937 autobiography, Three Ways Home, Sheila Kaye-Smith considers the commercial failure of her wartime novel Little England: The explanation [...] does not lie entirely in the book itself, but also in the time of its appearance. that must share the responsibility for the small impression that it made. It was a war book, […]

Poetry and prose

In his first-rate Ivor Gurney documentary on BBC4 yesterday, Tim Kendall rightly pointed out that Gurney is exceptional among Great War poets because of his specificity (naming fellow-soldiers), his communication of soldiers’ conviviality, and his depiction of the routine of military life. It struck me that these are exactly the qualities I value in war […]

The ‘Bomb Shop’ crowd

In Sheila Kaye-Smith’s 1943 novel of three wars, Tambourine, Trumpet and Drum, there is a 1917 scene in which Myra, youngest of the novel’s four sisters, goes to Proudlock’s, a London café where ‘of an evening one usually met the young men who by day hung around the Bomb Shop – the bookseller’s of the […]

Prison Libraries

I by and large keep contemporary politics out of this blog, but I’m utterly fuming at the Justice Secretary’s decision to prevent prisoners being sent books as presents. They must buy them from their meagre wages, he says, or rely on the prison library. I’m sure that prison libraries have improved since 1917, but I […]

‘I was playing golf the day that the Germans landed…’

I’m currently reading Sheila Kaye-Smith’s excellent 1943 novel, Tambourine, Trumpet, Drum (Thanks, Pat, for suggesting it.) The novel is in three parts, corresponding to the three wars: Boer War, Great War, World War II. At the start of August 1914, a young woman  teases her sister, who has been playing golf while the rest of […]

An August Bank Holiday Lark

This Northern Broadsides play takes its title from Philip Larkin’s poem MCMXIV, and the publicity flyers gave a good idea to expect. A close community in the pre-war golden summer, whose dreams and lives would be shattered by war. In other words – a presentation of the standard ‘futility’ interpretation of the Great War, what […]

Arnold Bennett’s ‘The Vanguard’

My review of Arnold Bennett’s The Vanguard (sometimes known as The Secret Vanguard)  is now online at the Reading 1900-1950 site.

‘The Making of an Officer’

I’ll be giving a talk on ‘Sapper’ in a couple of months’ time, so have been looking at some of his minor works. One that I’d not previously known about is this pseudonymous book, published in 1916: The book collects a short series of pseudonymous articles written by H. C. McNeile for the Times. (Was […]

The Diabolic Kaiser

In the French thriller Rouletabille Chez Krupp (1917) by Gaston Leroux, the hero and his sidekick enter a workshop of the Krupp factory complex where furnaces are blazing: Dante shivered when he entered the last circle of hell… and glimpsed the monarch of the empire of tears… It was with chattering teeth that ‘s companion […]

Meanings of mud

Like many other  heavy-duty readers I often find myself in the middle of two or more books at the same time. At the moment I’ve got two novels on the Kindle app of my tablet that could not be more different, though both are about the Great War. One is Helen Dunmore’s latest novel, The […]


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