There’s very few novels that I’ve read recently that have stood out in terms of the originality of the storytelling but this is certainly one that really took me aback. It tells the story of Tom Barnes leading British troops in a desperate war situation from the perspective of a 45 inanimate objects and it works very effectively.
We’re presented with the character of Tom as a number at first, his name only being revealed later. Telling the story from the perspective of the footwear shows us Tom going out running and all the preparation involved in going out. Later we see the story from the other side of the war, with Latif getting a pair of fancy new trainers that are frowned upon. The story here allows us to see the nerves of the man as the trainer feels his toes curling in and shows how unsettled he must be by the situation he’s found himself in.
The objects give us a window into the world of the characters, with one showing us a mother’s torture after hearing her son has been injured. Sometimes this can get into the sheer brutal impact of war, with an oscillating saw giving us the graphic detail of the surgery that takes place. A machine and blood tell us the story of the character’s confusion in hospital and the need for people to stay with him in the initial stages of his treatment.
The book is very fast paced as we move through the story told by the various objects. It’s extremely moving at times, especially when we see the pain that he’s going through and the feeling that he eventually doesn’t want people to see what he is suffering. There’s a brilliant, methodical description of receiving new legs and a feeling that what he has gone through was neither brave nor dignified. The impact of war on both sides of conflict is fully confronted and the book featured a harrowing scene of a father wheeling his son’s dead body away in a wheelchair.
Anatomy of a Soldier is an expertly paced, moving book that gives us an insight into the challenges and suffering of war. It pulls no punches in giving us a straight account of the impact on the individuals and their families and a large part of this is achieved through the wide scope given to us by telling it from the perspective of the 45 objects.