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Group reads > The Return of the Soldier (spoilers)

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message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Shall we assume spoilers in this thread, Ivan, since it should be a quick read?


message 3: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Oh, I should think so.


message 4: by Ivan (last edited Feb 15, 2011 03:25PM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I think perhaps I read this because of all the H. G. Wells I've been reading. West and Wells had a ten year affair and a son (Anthony West). Anyway, I'd heard of this, and the film with Glenda Jackson, Julie Christie and Alan Bates (which is not as good as the book, though still worth seeing).

I was quite taken with the remarkable prose, and found myself re-reading several passages simply because the ideas expressed or scenes described had been so exquistely articulated.

This is indeed short (82 pages in the Modern Library edition). However, it was not an "easy" read for two reasons. The prose is quite dense, and the story is brooding and melancholy - a beautiful sadness prevades.

More later...


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I've finished the first chapter -- it was surprising! The prose is quite dense, and I had to get into the rhythm of it. And, I wasn't expecting the quick turn in the story. It looks like it will be interesting.


message 6: by Laura (new)

Laura I am starting to read it right now...


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I wish I had a copy of the book. The sun is shining and I would love to sit near the sunny window to read this. Enjoy, Laura!


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

The writing is fantastic. I have been making notes to mark particular passages.

"Indeed, grief is not the clear melancholy the young believe it. It is like a siege in a tropical city."


message 9: by Laura (new)

Laura This author has an unique style of writing in my opinion.


message 10: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
A friend at work lost her husband suddenly last month and she is only just back to work....clearly she has been in that tropical city...I thought of her when I read that passage.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, Ivan. I certainly don't have the words to adequately describe this slim work. Powerful, beautiful, crushingly sad.


message 12: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The scene at the end of chapter four - when Chris and Maragret are reunited - I thought I might have a breakdown, it was like an arrow in the heart, I quite literally wept...."it was as though her embrace fed him"...."how entirely right Chris had been in his assertion that to lovers innumerable things do not matter."


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I think the scenes that struck me the most were the discovery, and debate in the nursery. The anguish that Margaret felt at both of them having lost a son, and the anguish as they both realized what they had to do, and yet did not want to do. It was wrenching.

You, Ivan, have a romantic heart! It was a beautiful scene when they met, and their love made them blind to the passage of time.


message 14: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 76 comments I just bought a copy of this - can't wait to start reading!

Ally


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Looking forward to your thoughts, Ally.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

For being such a slim volume, with a lot of descriptive passages of the physical surroundings (indoors and out), the book conveys many themes. And, I've been occupied with thinking about them these past days.

We have the wife and the cousin who were just ornaments in Chris' adult life compared with the way the grounds were artificially manicured. And everywhere Kitty seemed to be described as cold and white, and her actions supported this description. She never once expressed any tenderness towards her husband. She tried to jar his memory by decking herself out in all of the jewels he gave her. Wouldn't a visit to the nursery with Chris have brought him back to her? Wouldn't some loving touch have helped to rouse him? Right from the start the reader knew that theirs had been a loveless marriage.


message 17: by Ivan (last edited Feb 18, 2011 11:19AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Right from the start we understood Kitty's character, her dark soul; looking for mischief and duplicity in Maragaret from the very start, judging her by the seams of her coat and her provincial handbag. One feels Jenny feigns an attitude sympathetic with Kitty's to maintain harmony; her true nature can't help bear witness to the quality and purity of the feelings shared by Chris and Margaret - feelings which transend class and age.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes, Jenny comes to see herself and the life she has led in a new light. She, quite possibly, suffers the most in this story, even though I am undecided about my opinion.

The first scene that illuminates Kitty's true feelings is the scene that opens the book. Jenny does not want to intrude on Kitty's mourning in the nursery, but Kitty is only there to take advantage of the best window for drying her hair. How cold and uncaring. It was obviously Chris who kept the nursery as it was.


message 19: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Ally wrote: "I just bought a copy of this - can't wait to start reading!

Ally"


Welcome to the group Ally. I know we're reading this in "Bright Young Things" for March - I'm looking forward to comments from both groups.


message 20: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 76 comments Yes Ivan - it'll be nice to get the different opinions and nuances that a differently focussed group can achieve. I'm looking forward to getting started on this.


message 21: by James (new)

James Henderson (jim543) Ivan wrote: "The scene at the end of chapter four - when Chris and Maragret are reunited - I thought I might have a breakdown, it was like an arrow in the heart, I quite literally wept...."it was as though her ..."

I agree that this scene is moving. This is one of many examples where West creates a setting, "It was one of those draggled days, so common at the end of March, when the garden looks at its worst", that mirrors the action, particularly emotional, of the characters. She succeeds in heightening the impact of the scene.


message 22: by James (new)

James Henderson (jim543) Ivan wrote: "I think perhaps I read this because of all the H. G. Wells I've been reading. West and Wells had a ten year affair and a son (Anthony West). Anyway, I'd heard of this, and the film with Glenda Ja..."

I'll be following with my older Penguin edition which due to stylistic (?) differences takes ninety pages to do what the Modern Library does in eighty-two. Thanks for the invitation to join.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) Some of the emotions were moving, but I couldn't help but read with distaste in my mouth. Much of the interactions between characters were tainted severely by their classist nature, and I cringed every time Margaret was described so negatively by Jenny. I would have liked to hear the story told from a different perspective.

Playing devil's advocate to my own statement above, it is the contrast between the shallow narrator and her shallower companion that makes the love and agony of Cris and Margaret so compelling. I'm torn. :)


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

I felt Jenny made the best narrator because she is able to see how shallow their lives have been before the accident. And, because she makes the attempt to turn and aid Chris in his "better" life. We were meant to dislike (to a large degree) Kitty, and her vanity. It helps us see the beauty hidden in Margaret.

I wonder how the story might have been told from another's perspective. It would be interesting.


message 25: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Jaime wrote: "So when do we finish this one? I'm just asking so I can make sure I finish on schedule and participate in the discussion."

We're discussing as we go.

Very well stated Jeannette. Although, I never felt Margaret's beauty to be hidden; it was more a case of Kitty and Jenny being blind to it.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

Ivan, Margaret always possessed an inner beauty. Time, care, and poverty had worn down her outer beauty, and shallow people like Kitty will never be able to see any beauty in Margaret. Jenny being able to change her view from the external, makes her (Jenny's) transformation all the more sad and powerful, as it shows her and the reader her own shortcomings, her failure to really connect with Chris.


message 27: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Jenny wrote: "Some of the emotions were moving, but I couldn't help but read with distaste in my mouth. Much of the interactions between characters were tainted severely by their classist nature, and I cringed ..."

I agree. Kitty, is rather a horror.


message 28: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 76 comments Does anyone wonder how they might react in Kitty's situation? - I'm trying to imagine myself as her but finding it difficult. If my world collapsed I'm not sure I'd react at all well and from the early chapters you get a sense that Kitty has been a joy to be around, cultures and sweet natured and a good wife. She has also had one terrible tradgedy in her life when she lost her son. to face a husband that refuses to 'know' her (or at least refuses to try to regain an understanding of his current life) would be really quite behaviour changing. - I don't think I can see Kitty as shallow or vapid, despite her inate snobbery. It is afterall her world that has changed here. - I wish that the author had given Kitty more of a voice.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

The author really didn't give Kitty a chance; she was meant to be the opposite of Margaret.

What would I do in Kitty's place? Hard to answer, but she didn't seem to have any tenderness for Chris. She was angry, she was proud, she decked herself out in jewels. But, where were the smaller, more intimate gestures? She doesn't even mention the child. I think that would be one of the first things I would say to a "shell-shocked" husband. "Have you forgotten our child?"


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) It seemed sometimes like Jenny's filter of Kitty was what was harshest. Shell-shock from war is obvious, but what about the grief of losing a child? Is Kitty really shallow, or is she in denial?

I agree with Ally - it does seem that Kitty has done great things with the household and even expanded the business or holdings or something like that, and is well-liked in that community.


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

I wonder how much of it could be that Chris was always in love with Margaret, and only married Kitty because he was expected to. There isn't enough background given about what their marriage was really like. All we get, as you say, are Jenny's observations and analysis. And, of course, we see that Chris wants to go back to earlier times and stay there with Margaret.


message 32: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
If Chris were my husband, I fear I would be rather too effusive - I'd overpower him with reminiscenes, and a barrage of family photographs (including photos of the boy), clothes (intimate apparel?), personal belongings, anything and everything to jog his memory - the place would look like something out of a Barbara Pym jumble sale.

I can't imagine what Kitty would be feeling. It would be horrible, no doubt. I think this was West's intention - she drew her "inate snobbery" [nice phrase Ally] so thoroughly in order to manipulate our sympathy toward Margaret.

I thought it was implied that Jenny was living with Chris and Kitty as a permanent guest - they were graceful enough to be taking care of her so to speak; in this way she wasn't as free to voice her own opinions or assert her own will.


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

Another insight about their marriage. Chris and Jenny are cousins and grew up together (not always in the same house, I believe). And, it seemed to me that she had a "crush" on Chris, too. What does that say about the relationship between Chris and Jenny, keeping the cousin around? I don't think Chris and Jenny were emotionally very close.


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) Just thought that I share my GR review. I gave it 3 stars. Much of this book was beautifully written. However, like the other reviewers, I found that the Flowery writing often got in the way of the story. The characters seemed weak and I couldn't feel them. I wonder if the story is an allegory. The central characters loss of memory, and his nostalgia for the past, symbolising his country's pain during, and after the war, and its nostalgia for pre-war times


message 35: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 10, 2011 05:46AM) (new)

That's an interesting way to look at this story, Vikz, and I can definitely see what you mean. You can even extend that to the ending where Chris returns to being a "soldier". That is the image that makes Kitty the happiest.

(I edited the name of the wife.)


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) Jeannette wrote: "That's an interesting way to look at this story, Vikz, and I can definitely see what you mean. You can even extend that to the ending where Chris returns to being a "soldier". That is the image t..."

You make an interesting point. I still think the three way relationship is quite odd. Jennifer seems to want the past as much as Christopher.


message 37: by Ivan (last edited Apr 12, 2012 09:21AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Well, think about it: Chris and Jenny were childrn of privilege. Suddenly Chris is the head of a company, his child dies, there's a horrific war - who wouldn't want to "set the way back machine" for less stressful, happier time?

I loved the prose. However, I'm not at all sure that I could handle a full length novel by West if this is representative of her work. This is yet another reason why I champion the novella form.


message 38: by [deleted user] (new)

And, yet, Kitty did not want the same "happier" times that Chris and Jenny were longing for. She wanted things to be as they should, present day. Making Jenny the narrator just alienates the reader further from Kitty, and makes the reader more sympathetic to Chris' (and England's?) desire/need to turn back to clock, pre-war.

I would have liked just a few more pages, but not 200 more.


message 39: by Jackie (new)

Jackie | 1 comments How did Jenny transform in this book?


message 40: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
It was sense and sensibility. She realized that Margaret wasn't "the enemy," and that Chris' immediate need was more important than Kitty's feelings.


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