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How Many Miles To Babylon?
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How Many Miles To Babylon?

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  1,220 Ratings  ·  92 Reviews
As a child Alec, heir to the big house and only son of a bitter marriage, formed a close friendship with Jerry, a village boy who shared his passion for horses. In 1914 both enlisted in the British Army - Alec goaded by his beautiful, cold mother to fight for King and Country, Jerry to learn his trade for the Irish Nationalist cause.
Paperback, 156 pages
Published 1988 by Penguin Books (first published 1974)
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For such a brief book, How Many Miles to Babylon is a work of startling delicacy and power. Set in the dying days of the Irish Ascendancy just before the start of WWI and the 1916 Rising ensured that "all changed, changed utterly", it tells the story of two young Irish men. Alex, an upper-class Protestant, and Jerry, a working class Catholic, who become friends despite the class divisions between them: a friendship that's both erotically charged and very strong, and which leads to one of the sta ...more
Oct 09, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-works
Well, good grief. How have I got to 48 and never read anything by this woman before. This book was really excellent. A poignant account of the trench warfare in Flanders and this would have ranked high just for that, added to it the story of friendship and loneliness and misunderstood compassion and it shoots ever upward.

It is written in the first person and as, in the opening paragraph, the narrator makes it clear he has only a few hours left to live and he is in custody there hangs over the w
Brian Robbins
Jul 29, 2012 Brian Robbins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling, well-written little story - even though occasionally the word craftsmanship made itself a little too noticable.

As I read the book that bloody mother really got my goat big time - hideous, detestable crone that she was, even if she was disguised as a reasonably good-looking and well brought up one. My initial response was to want to consign her in my imagination to a different literary role, as Bill Sike's consort. However, by the time she had exerted her power and malice to force h

Blurb: As a child Alexander, heir to the big house and only son of a bitter marriage, formed a close friendship with Jerry, a village boy who shared his passion for horses. In 1914 both enlisted in the British Army - Alexander goaded by his beautiful, cold mother to fight for King and Country, Jerry to learn his trade for the Irish Nationalist cause. But amid the mud of Flanders, their relationship is tested by an ordeal beyond the horror of the battlefield...

How Many Miles to Babylon? by Je
Dec 02, 2010 James rated it liked it
With a title referencing a traditional nursery-rhyme this novel retraces some familiar ground. How Many Miles to Babylon presents issues of friendship, family, class and war. What makes the novel worthwhile is the fine writing style of the author. Both the description of the desolation of Ireland as seen from the eyes of the impressionable youths and the experience on the fields of Flanders as it ends their innocence is well told.

The story begins, however, with the complex tale of a friendship
Jun 14, 2007 Trin rated it really liked it
This was apparently required reading for the leaving cert for some of my Irish friends. I wish I'd been made to read such wonderful(ly slashy) things in high school! The plot revolves around WWI and class consciousness and male friendship, and it's a painful but beautiful story that I'm glad I spent my last day in Ireland sitting outside in Merrion Square reading. Even in less fantastic locations, this book still shines.
Apr 06, 2013 Laura rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book at the Bedtimre:
Jennifer Johnson tells the remarkable story of a friendship during the First World War
Young Alec Moore lives in paradise. It is the early years of the 20th century, and Moore is the only child of wealthy Anglo-Irish parents, a member of the landowning aristocracy that has ruled the Emerald Isle for centuries. The family mansion is nestled away in a beautiful valley in County Wicklow south of Dublin, surrounded by parkland and mirror-like lakes and lowering green mountains – a sovereign Arcadia that defines the limits of Alec’s life.

But all is not well. Alec is the product of a p
Dizzy Lizzie
Apr 14, 2017 Dizzy Lizzie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-english
Indecisa entre as 4 e as 5 estrelas, por isso fico-me pelo 4,5.
Um pequeno livro que nos conta a história da 1ª Guerra Mundial vista essencialmente pelo lado irlandês. Ao contrário do que seria esperado não se foca muito nas rivalidades Reino Unido VS Irlanda, mas sim na vida de dois rapazes: Alec e Jerry, ambos irlandeses, mas muito diferentes entre si.

O livro é contado na primeira pessoa por Alec e foi, para mim, uma leitura dura, principalmente no fim. Aconselho terem conhecimentos básicos sob
Read it for school, and I don't know I feel about it to be honest. I mean, it's the only one of my books that is on both my 'disappointing books' shelf and my 'enjoyed more than I expected' shelf. It should have been really good. The storyline was interesting. I know technically they aren't actually gay, but it was a heartbreaking story if you read it like that. These two young men are on the brink of realizing they are in love with each other while fighting in World War I.

The Irish nationalism
Jan 10, 2013 Eimear rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-library
I must admit that I would never have picked this book to read myself, I had to read it for school (Leaving cert higher level course)and I will admit I was pleasantly surprised(to a certain point). I thought it was going to be a hard slog of a book with meanings and messages shoved down my throat at every opportunity like most novels for state exams are, but thankfully it wasn't. I can't fault Johnston's writing style, it flow and is very easy to read, her characters are well-drawn and believable ...more
A. Mary
Feb 03, 2012 A. Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-novels
A love story, really, between boyhood friends, on either side of the Protestant/Catholic class divide, who end up in WWI. Each enlists for his own reasons, and if we know anything of the Irish experience of WWI, we know before we start to read that this will not be a happy story. The characters are solid, dense, and in the short space it takes to tell her story, Johnston creates a cast of perhaps ten characters who elicit powerful responses from a reader--love Alec, love Jerry, loathe Sergeant B ...more
Jun 23, 2010 Victoria rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Victoria by: A Neighbor
Oh! What a surprisingly powerful novel! One of our Irish neighbors recommended it to me, saying of all the books he was forced to read for school, this was his very favorite one. And I must say, the book took me by surprise! Though truly more of a novella than novel, at only being a scant few pages over 150, it was beautifully written and so emotional! I just loved it! I do think, however, in order to truly appreciate it, you need to have some understanding of the historical and political contex ...more
Kayleigh Mathews
May 02, 2015 Kayleigh Mathews rated it really liked it
I would personally not have picked this book if it was for a pleasure read but I had to read as part of my leaving Cert course for English.
The books develops around the themes of war, friendship, family and it links close to the social classes of education and wealth during the time it is set.
Despite this being part of the course I quite enjoyed it which isn't always the case for books that I'm told I have to read.
May 25, 2016 Al rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: personal-library
A brilliant, haunting and heartbreaking story that does a great commentary on the senselessness of class and the brutality of war. It hammers home the importance of the two best equalisers in the world: love and death.

Longer discussion here:
May 14, 2017 Ana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical, wwi
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jane Willis
May 13, 2017 Jane Willis rated it really liked it
A beautiful book, witty and tragic in equal proportions. The storyline was secondary to the quality of writing, in fact had it been stronger I would have given this the full 5 stars, but this book isn't about the story, it's about the way it is told. A beautiful tale of rural Irish life at the turn of the 20th century, of childhood friendship and family relationships, which moves effortlesly into a gruelling description of life in the trenches during the First World War.

One thing I loved about
Jul 05, 2017 Phil rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Eye of A Miniaturist

More than a short story, but shorter perhaps than a novel, this novella deals with two lads from the same Irish village one hundred years ago. One is the son of the manor house, born to privilege and expectations, while the other is poor, with litter education and fewer prospects.
Both go off the same day to the Great War, one an officer, the other, a private, and it is questionable if both shall return.
Ms. Johnston write with the fine of a miniaturist, that the reader ca
Kathleen O'Nan
Mar 14, 2017 Kathleen O'Nan rated it it was amazing
Set just before and during WWI, and equally importantly, just before the 1916 Uprising in Ireland, this tale of the friendship of two boys who become young men together is a powerful tale of friendship despite class divisions. The ending is shocking and very, very sad.
Nov 15, 2014 Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-literature
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 26, 2014 Nessa rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
HMMTB is a novel set in the context of the first World War about the class system that divides childhood friend's Alec and Jerry. Homeshooled and isolated from society, Alec grew in the midst of a cold loveless marriage - he is a product from this lack of emotion. His mother, Alicia, a strong believer in the class system, exerts control in society through her son, and uses him to help her develop her standing within society. When Alec befriends lower-class Jerry, she forbids it in the moment, no ...more
Mar 24, 2011 Eric rated it really liked it
I picked this up while we were visiting the World War I battlefields in Belgium and northern France with the study abroad students. I've always been drawn to the tragedy and folly of WWI, particularly its impact on the lives and minds of the young people thrown into the trenches. This book is very different from other works in the genre, the war is almost entirely in the background. There are no horrific descriptions of the violence or the suffering, no discussions of battles or tactics, no exam ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Clare rated it it was amazing
I first heard about this story because the actor, Andrew Scott, was set to read it for the BBC on their "Book at Bedtime" series. (Info is here: I listened to him read an abridged version and it was incredibly haunting. I just had to know *what* had been left out.

This story still haunts me. It's a very simple tale, and quite short as well. But it's incredibly poignant and sad. It's a tale of wasted lives, loyalty, misplaced priorities (or perhaps that w
Feb 01, 2016 Carlton rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
A short book about the youth of a repressed member of the Irish gentry at the beginning of the twentieth century and his friendship with a soldier's son with their mutual love of horses. You learn to understand his repression from the character of his parents and their loveless life. The story is told as a first person memoir and although you can understand why the author has chosen this approach, the repressed nature of the main character means that you do not grow to love him. There are some b ...more
Angela Young
Oct 23, 2012 Angela Young rated it it was amazing
A brilliant novel. I gather from Jennifer Johnston's British Council website that she - at least in her earlier novels, and this is her third - found it difficult to write about the Troubles in Ireland directly, so she wrote about other troubles instead (in this case the First World War). And in this novel she addresses the secret - and some say homoerotic although I thought of it as a non-sexual very close - friendship between opposites: Alec, heir to th ...more
Apr 24, 2014 Kris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Basically, I did not enjoy this novel. Perhaps because I had to read it in school, that diminished the joy of reading How Many Miles to Babylon, but maybe it's due to it being short and basic and uneventful. The whole atmosphere ranges somewhere between arrogant and mentally unstable and incredibly dull; the characters are bare and shallow but for the tragic events at the end of the book. Sure, Alec was kind of attached to Jerry from the start but apart from his life being pretty much un-worthwh ...more
This is one of those books that I can see is good, and why, but I don't particularly like it. It just didn't strike a chord for me — Alec's relationships with his parents dominated the narrative for me, rather than the relationship with Jerry; this clearly was not what the author intended, is not where the "delicacy and power" that Siria mentioned resides, and meant that I was paying attention to literally the wrong story.

Jerry just didn't catch my gaze as a reader. I honestly would have missed
Tim Diggles
Sep 14, 2015 Tim Diggles rated it liked it
This is a First World War story of two friends from Ireland, one wealthy Anglo-Irish, the other from a poor family. They grow up together having a shared love of horses then for very different reasons join up in 1914 to find themselves in a muddy hell and their friendship and love of Ireland questioned.
The story has an inevitability but is a compelling read. I always forget between reading Jennifer Johnston's novels how good they are, this comes from 1974 and is still fresh, though a criticism
Sarah Harakeh
Nov 15, 2013 Sarah Harakeh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
How Many Miles To Babylon? is a well written and powerful story about a friendship that defeats all the obstacles it faces. Jennifer Johnston delivers a meaningful message through this book that tries to give a hope for peace in Ireland, where the story takes place. The book subtly satirizes wars, politics and the conflicts that the society in Ireland lived based on religion. It shows that it does not matter what your doctrine is, whether you are a Protestant or Catholic, rich or poor, deep insi ...more
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Jennifer Johnston is an Irish novelist and playwright.

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“Because I am an officer and a gentleman they have given me my notebooks, pen, ink and paper. So I write and wait. I am committed to no cause, I love no living person. The fact that I have no future except what you can count in hours doesn't seem to disturb me unduly. After all, the future whether here or there is equally unknown. So for the waiting days I have only the past to play about with. I can juggle with a series of possibly inaccurate memories, my own interpretation, for what is worth, of events. There is no place for speculation or hope, or even dreams. Strangely enough I think I like it like that.” 0 likes
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