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How Many Miles to Babylon?

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  1,571 ratings  ·  126 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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 ·  1,571 ratings  ·  126 reviews

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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
Steve Middendorf
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
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
Melanie Vidrine
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An Irish author’s take on WWI, beautiful writing, dreadful and revealing, truly an inhuman story. Life before the war as heartbreaking as life in the trenches.
Micaela Castanheira
Nov 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
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
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.
Lisa Reynolds
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How Many Miles To Babylon? (1974) is an incredibly interesting short read set in 1914 just before the 1916 Rising and the beginning of WWI.

I first came across this book when it was on the curriculum in my secondary school. I liked what I got to read of it at the time but when you are studying a book it can be difficult to sit back and just enjoy the book. So I put it on the to-read list and recently I got the chance to read it through and unsurprisingly it was a great read.

Gorgeously told by J
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.
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
8/10 ⭐️ Ok this 1975 library edition has to be one of the ugliest covers ever. The book however is poignant. Thus the old adage Don’t judge a book by its cover!

How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston was my second by Irish writers this month of St. Patrick’s Day. The story is of two Irish youths who go off to fight World War 1. They are childhood friends but Alex is from a well to do family and Jerry is from a common lower class family. They are treated very different in their small vill
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
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have just finished this book, and quite honestly, I can't seem to find an appropriate outlet for my feelings about it. That ending..
Apart from that, I really enjoyed the ongoing lively debate about war, men, life.
'The world taught me. The world will teach you. You will never understand until the day you are faced with responsible decisions to make. People's lives, people's deaths. The crumbling world waiting for your word.' 'Please God such a macabre situation will never arise'.
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.
Alexander Bell
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Now. This is writing. Poetic, brilliantly observed. The characterisation of Alex’s parents is masterful and Major Glendinning is made flesh and blood. I hadn’t read this book for nigh on 40 years. A reread was well overdue.
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
This novel started beautifully but I feel it kinda struggled in the end. I don't know, maybe the writing style wasn't my cup of tea. The characters lacked depth to me. I didn't care about anyone at the end. 2.5 stars from me.
Margaret Madden
A beautiful classic which should be read by everyone. The power of friendship shines through the darkness of the front line in Flanders. The prose is elegant and effective and the characters are drawn in such a way that I may never forget them. Stunning.
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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.

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