Trade Report Only, that’s the title of a cracking little story that I’m looking forward to sharing with the reading group later on today. I’d never come across C.E. Montague until I opened up the Penguin Book of First World War Stories. That’s not so surprising, since it seems that he’s primarily remembered for his autobiography, Disenchantment. I won’t need to repeat the reviews on that, since apparently the title sums it up neatly, and you can easily find summaries of it on the internet.
However, on the grounds of the short story I’ve just read, I may have to add Montague to my list of authors to look out for. I’m not going to sum up the story plot here. That would definately be a spoiler, and I’m hoping you might decide to get hold of a copy of this to read for yourself.
Why? Well first, because as we head for the centenary of the outbreak of the war, why not try a prose account of it as well as, or even instead of, the more usual poetry. But secondly, there are lots of literary reasons to look at this particular one, too.
It’s a first person narrative that was originally published in 1923. Our narrator, the sergeant of a mining unit who have been posted to an orchard at the edges of the battle (no, this is not a story of the trenches) is an educated man, he is both sympathetic and poetic. Atmosphere, imagery, symbolism and classical and biblical allusions all come into play.
No one has said what was wrong with The Garden, not even why it was called that name: whether because it had apples in it, and also a devil, like Eden…
Is it dated? Well, in the sense that the characters speak differently to the way we would today, yes. Call me a purist if you like, but I prefer that. I can never quite settle into historical fiction or faction where the characters have twenty-first century voices. And in case you are wary of coloquial writing, don’t let that put you off, the dialogue, like the prose, is concise and to the point, and is used sparingly.
‘Gawd a’mighty!’ Looker shrilled at the entry of Toomey, ‘if Fritz ain’t sold ‘im a pup!’
You can read this story for the plot, or like one of the war poems, you can reread and follow the treasure hunt. I promise you that’s well worth the effort. I’m looking forward to discovering if the reading group share my enthusiasm.
If you never were in the line there before the smash came and made it like everywhere else, you could not know how it would work on the nerves…