mardi 12 juin 2018

Book review: How many miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston


How many miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston is a striking, extremely convincing account of World War I, as well as an extraordinary depiction of social classes and their differences, in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also, above all, one of the most moving stories about friendship, like Of Mice and Men, in which two extraordinarily ordinary characters who should never have been together because of their differences, will be true to each other until the end. In spite of their different political views (very significant in Ireland in those days), backgrounds,
social classes, roles in society and in the army, they help and support and deeply trust each other until the very end


The incipit is so striking that I reread it when I finished the novel, once I had been acquainted with the mysterious protagonist. I needed to go back to the beginning as if the story was circular. The end is depicted at the very beginning of the story and that in medias res opening makes the story extremely powerful. We get to like Alec straightaway. He sounds so wise, so grown up, so mature. He analyses his plight with a coldness that inspires respect and makes us want to learn more about him.
“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.”
What is more, the very first topic is “writing” and the importance of literature as the protagonist is about to die and can only do one thing: write. All he has is summed up in these few words :
“notebooks, pen, ink and paper”


Alec gives us clues about his unreliability as a narrator (and this reminds me of  The Great Gatsby’s incipit, in which Nick Carraway, on the contrary, states that he will be a reliable narrator, just before judging other characters…) :
“I can juggle with a series of possibly inaccurate memories, my own interpretation, for what it is worth, of events.”
The story is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful stories of friendship I have ever read.

Last but not least, Johnston’s style, diction, the stylistic devices shes uses (such as irony) make it an absolute MUST read!

To go further: An interesting article.