I nearly gave up a quarter of the way through the book because the writing style was so dry and seemingly detached. I found it slow reading, especially during descriptions of Graves’s school days which I felt dragged on, and I am the kind of reader who races through a book and not emerging sometimes until I have finished it.
When I picked the book up again and reached Graves’s life in the war I was hooked. The dry and stoic writing was layered with black humour, anger and admiration as we saw corpses, heads blown to pieces, idiotic arrogance of military command and day-to-day life in the trenches.
The shells went hissing away eastward; we saw the red flash and heard the hollow bang where they landed in German territory. The men picked up their step again and began chaffing. A lance-corporal dictated a letter home: “Dear auntie, this leaves me in the pink. We are at present wading in blood up to our necks. Send me fags and a life-belt. This war is a booger. Love and kisses.”
Halfway through the book I began to love Graves’s style of writing (although never managed to love the writer himself). I certainly respected him and enjoyed savouring the book slowly and occasionally going back to read a scene again. The book is filled with anecdotes and stories that Graves heard of people he met and a detailed account of his friendship with Siegfried Sassoon which I found fascinating to read.
It is rare that I find a book where I enjoy reading it slowly and carefully. I’m not sure how often I will re-read it but there are definitely scenes that I have page folded to look at later.