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Different conversations

In the second issue of Tom Rowley’s Backstory magazine, he features an article by one of the booksellers in his shop, Amy Strong. Strong interview Isabel Wall, the editor who has worked on some of my favourite books by Alice Winn, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Elif Shafak and many others.

I was fascinated to learn more about the role of a novel’s editor. The paragraph that stuck in my mind was this:

Wall tries to go to her authors’ events as often as possible. ‘It is really interesting how you can go to events with the same author, but depending on who’s interviewing them… that generates such different conversations and makes me think about their work in different ways.’

This made me reflect on how observing friends and colleagues in different social situations shapes our perception of them. Last week, a colleague and I were pondering whether promotions change people or whether it’s just our perceptions that change: it’s much the same question.

Wall’s observation also felt appropriately literary: after all, we come to understand characters in novels by watching their actions and conversations in different circumstances.

This post was filed under: Notes, , , , , .

I’ve been reading ‘In Memoriam’ by Alice Winn

I’m not typically drawn to reading fiction set in the First or Second World War. This may seem odd and limiting, but I often feel uncomfortable about using such horrific events as a backdrop for fiction. This discomfort distracts me from the story, leading me to dark reflections on human nature—something I usually prefer to avoid.

This book was an exception. I avoided reading it for all of the above reasons, but eventually the weight of the number of recommendations wore me down. It was Tom Rowley and Amy Strong’s recommendation that finally tipped the balance. And, my goodness, I’m glad it did. I was interested that Amy said exactly the same as me about generally avoiding books set during the war.

This was an outstanding novel—and it’s a debut.

It begins at Preshute, a posh English public school. The novel focuses on two of the boys at this school—Sidney Ellwood and Henry Gaunt—who we find on opposing sides of a school debate in 1916 about whether war is a necessary evil. We follow their relationship as they both end up on the Allied frontline, a particularly challenging experience for half-German Gaunt.

Winn examines how war transforms individuals, both subtly and profoundly. She captures the sheer brutality of war at a personal, intimate level, but skilfully mixes in humour and doesn’t shy away from highlighting the absurdity of war.

I would normally also object to the book featuring almost entirely upper-class experiences, but Winn won me over. I appreciated how she showed us the unhinged and unhealthy intertwining of the public school and class systems and the war. In that respect, this book makes an interesting companion to Richard Beard’s Sad Little Men and Sathnam Sanghera’s Empireland.

The ‘historical note’ at the end of the book knocked me for six.

I’d recommend this very highly.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, What I've Been Reading, .

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