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

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,388 ratings  ·  109 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 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 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
Jun 14, 2007 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.
Dec 02, 2010 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
Apr 06, 2013 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
Tess Liebregts
This is the book I've been longing to read even though I didn't know it existed. I really hope Evelyn Waugh rises from the grave, so I can discuss it with him. Why Evelyn Waugh do you ask? Well, because this book gave me 'Brideshead Revisited' vibes and I really wish to know what he thinks about that.

Anyhow, this book was great. It broke my heart, but it was so compelling! Jennifer Johnston describes things with a sense of poetry and sensibility. Sometimes the book reads like it is a poem. On ot
Apr 14, 2017 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
Laila (BigReadingLife)
Heartbreaking but beautiful. A friendship (homoerotic?) between an upper-class young Irishman, Alexander, and one of the workers on his family's estate, Jerry. Frowned upon by Alexander's dysfunctional family. Then WWI starts and they both go off to war. This novella is beautifully written but be prepared for a gut-punch. I'll definitely read more by Jennifer Johnston, a prolific Irish writer I'd never heard of before a couple of years ago.

(Read this for Cathy's Reading Ireland Month blog event
Micaela Castanheira
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Andrew Scott could read the phone book and still make it compelling. Brilliant delivery. The ending absolutely crushed me, though. Not cool.
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 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 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 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 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 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:
I read this book in school as part of my final exams and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Usually when I read books as part of my english course in school, the detail and depth we looked for as we read the book made me enjoy it less, but this book is the exception.
At only 160 pages long, this novel packs a punch.

I picked this book up on a whim- it was prescribed on the Leaving Cert course and while I didn't study it, I was intruiged By the promise of horses, and by the fact that it was written by an Irish Author.

First of all, I loved Johnston's writing style, it was lyrical and had a beauty to it, yet it never felt 'wordy' or unnecessary. It created a sense of loneliness which permeated throughout the novel, while also providing beautiful descriptions of
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jane Willis
May 13, 2017 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 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
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This powerful and beautifully written novella describes the relationship between two Irish boys from different class backgrounds in the years leading up to World War I and then on the battlefield. The author underscores the futility and filth of trench warfare and contrasts it with descriptions of the beautiful Irish countryside. Another theme is the prejudice the English and Anglo-Irish display towards the Irish and the hints of the upcoming rebellion.
Mark Owens
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Memorable, haunting descriptions of life in the trenches mark this wartime tale of two friends divided by class but joined by a war. And what a choice Alec has to make when it's just he and his best friend and the war seems the furthest thing from their minds. Though rich with description the writing had a dry sort of directness that reminded me of Catcher in the Rye.
Mary Purcell
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book. It is beautifully written , capturing Irish society before and after WW1. The friendship between the two boys, both from different backgrounds is described so sensitively that the reader is completely drawn into the story. The ending is unexpected and heart-breaking. The prose is excellent , made all the more enjoyable by the inclusion of quotes from WB Yeate’s poetry.
Matt Hunt
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Got a bit fed up with this. Started off beautifully, struggled to finish it.
Think it was me rather than the book, I just slipped off track.
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Heartbreaking work about the horrors of war set in WWI. The writing style wasn't necessarily my favorite, but it was very effective at evoking a visceral response to the character's experiences.
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lovely tale, well told, that tugs thy rusty heart strings.
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Jennifer Johnston is an Irish novelist and playwright.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
“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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