The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West (1918)

This slender novel was West’s first work of fiction; her first book, published two years earlier, was a study of Henry James, and the Master’s influence is clear here in West’s intricate syntax and piercing psychological analyses, though there are moments too where you feel her almost physically shake him from her shoulders; after a long and careful sentence you get: “Well, she gave Chris duck eggs for tea.”

I came to this out of an interest in shell shock, but Chris Baldry’s war-induced amnesia turns out to be only the macguffin West deploys in order to set in motion the drama with which she’s centrally concerned, one about competing versions of gender and class. Absolutely no regrets, though, since this is an exquisite, deeply intelligent, near-perfect little book.

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