John Lucy's Reviews > The End of the Battle

The End of the Battle by Evelyn Waugh
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's review
May 18, 2012

it was amazing
Read in January, 2013

I quote others when I say, "A crowning achievement." A culmination of all the absurd war doings of Guy Crouchback and others. The third book of the "Sword of Honour Trilogy" wraps up what is perhaps the best trilogy I have ever read: the story depends on the complete set, you cannot fully appreciate any one of the books without reading the other two, and you absolutely must start with the first book. All the same characters carried to fruition from the start of WWII to the end. Sometimes the events, as ridiculous as they usually are, are predictable, but that is only because the reader comes to know the characters so intimately over the course of the three books. Indeed, the occasional predictability only adds to the fun and tragedy of the story, because the reader questions, "How can Virginia Crouchback (aka Virginia Troy, aka Virginia Blackhouse) go on living that way?" Replace Virginia with any other character and the question remains. The final question proves to be, "How can the war go on that way?"

For anyone familiar with Waugh it will be expected that the main characters face some sort of tragi-comical end. While the same is true here, the trilogy is never quite as humorous as Waugh's other work, especially pre-war novels. It seems as if Waugh at times deliberately withheld some humor and then compensated by giving the endearing characters a more happy ending.

Very little of the trilogy deals with the war directly. Guy does go through training and embarks on a number of missions, the last of which brings him face to face with the abandoned Jews of the war; and the trilogy aims at being anti-war, it would seem; but Waugh's main concern is the simple absurdity of it all. War is absurd, people are absurd, life is absurd. Through it all Waugh does highlight the courage, generosity, morality, and hope that drive many good people through life, but even then the ridiculous world closes in on us. At the core most of us are simply concerned with our own survival, including the ability to live with the choices that we make. For some, like Virginia and Trimmer, our methods of survival do us more harm than good; for others, like Guy, our methods ensure our survival and our contentment; for yet others, like Ludovic, our methods ensure our survival but then we spend the rest of our life in fear and near insanity.

Plainly put, if you want a good anti-war novel, or three, the Sword of Honour trilogy should rank high on the list. More significantly, however, if you want to read great English literature, you should definitely read this trilogy. Waugh masters the form of the trilogy and he was already a master of English literature.

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