Once the young form of the literary novel had decided, 250 years or so ago, that it would do more than tell stories, that it was uniquely suited by its access to inward psychological development and boundless narrative to explore ‘human nature’ and that that would be, for many writers and readers, its highest aim, then you would have thought that most ambitious novelists would have looked to see what conditions of existence offered them the most extreme and therefore, presumably, most rewarding circumstances for their study.
War, surely, would have been the answer. If the writing of fiction had been undertaken by scientists, they would certainly have seized on the dramatic potential of armed conflicts for their experiments. […]
Artists, however, aren’t like that.
That is Sebastian Faulks introducing The Vintage Book of War Fiction, a book of extracts from novels set in wars of the twentieth century.
It’s an excellent collection but, as it happens, a poor choice for bedtime reading under any circumstances, most of all when you spend most of your day talking and writing and worrying about war, and especially when you wake in the morning, look out the window, and see only the twisted wreckage of a city pounded senseless.
Our bedside tables back in New Haven are an equally gruesome site. Jeannie’s is the worst. In the tall stack I’m quite sure there’s not a single book without at least one of the words “genocide”, “killers”, or “violence” in the title. What must the guests think?
I have just about reached my limit. Suggestions for (non-fiction) bedtime reading from blog readers are welcome. But no war, please.