Michael's Reviews > Goodbye to All That

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
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's review
Dec 13, 2011

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bookshelves: non-fiction, 1920s
Read in December, 2011

It's often hard to keep your appraisal of a book separate from your prior expectations. "Goodbye to All That," for much of its length, is an amazing document of a junior officer's experience of World War I. Since junior officers didn't tend to survive that war, a lucid, frank, and articulate account of life in the trenches -- literally -- is a valuable document.

Unfortunately, I was pointed towards the book by its reputation as a bitingly funny attack on and rejection of the entire British, or European, class system as it existed before The Great War. And that it isn't. Graves is, first of all, not bitingly funny. He gets an occasional good line off, but he is on the whole a workmanlike and rather spare prose craftsman. His wit is dry, but not abundant. And although he is perhaps a bit Bohemian, fancies himself blunt-spoken, and reports himself as able to get on well with the lower classes, Graves is through and through a member of the "ruling class" from start to finish. He doesn't even really try to tell us otherwise; his decision to say "good-bye to all that" and exile himself in Malta is by his own account mostly about his failed marriage. In a forward written decades later, Graves frankly admits that he wrote his memoirs to a formula he thought would sell, in order that he could make some money. That is charmingly cynical, perhaps, but it's not a very convincing rejection of the social order.

Readers hoping for a broadside against The Establishment will be disappointed to find that the post-War chapters of the book are downright cluttered with name-dropping, alternating between unremarkable stories of family life and detailed reports of everything Thomas Hardy, T.E. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, and other literary notables said on the occasions that he rubbed elbows with them. They didn't say much of interest, really.

Highly recommended for those interested in the First World War. Skim the pre-War and post-War chapters unless you are related to Robert Graves and are interested in family history.
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