Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Blasted Things by Lesley Glaister. My thanks to Ceris and Niki at Sandstone Press for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.
About the Book
1920: Britain is trying to forget the Great War.
Clementine, who nursed at the front and suffered losses, must bury the past. Then she meets Vincent, an opportunistic veteran whose damage goes much deeper than the painted tin mask he wears.
Their deadly relationship will career towards a dark and haunting resolution.
Format: Paperback (352 pages) Publisher: Sandstone Press
Publication date: 16th September 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Structured in three parts – Before, During and After – the opening chapters of Blasted Things transports the reader to the mayhem and horror of a Casualty Clearing Station close to the Front and the Allied trenches in 1918. The job of nurses like Clementine (Clem) and the other medical staff is to ‘patch up’ the wounded for the journey to hospital; many of them will not make it, dying on the operating table or from infection. The sheer awfulness of what Clem witnesses – the results of what human beings can do to other human beings – is vividly depicted. I loved the imaginative metaphors, such as the descrption of the sounds Clem hears as she lies exhausted on her bunk in her cramped quarters: ‘the rat-tat-tat of gunfire, rapid and snippy like the keys of two vast, duelling typewriters battering out threats to each other in a paper sky’. Snatched moments of joy are intense and serve as a temporary distraction. Just how temporary, the reader will discover. The dramatic event which ends part one of the book is conveyed in a quite remarkable way.
Part two of the book, set in 1920, sees Clem, now married and with a young child, suffering the after-effects of her wartime experiences. Taking the form of something between shellshock and post-natal depression, it brings Clem to the brink of a monstrous act. She spends the next few months confined to bed, isolated and in a drug-fuelled haze as a result of the medication prescribed by her doctor husband, Dennis. ‘Months, months after months, a blur. Fingers on the arms, a steel shaft in a vein, sparkle of drug in blood, limbs loose, child cries, someone always looking in…’ Clem imagines her brain as ‘a house with an upstairs room and a basement: the basement locked with a long, serious key’ containing the traumatic memories she dare not face, the memories Dennis urges her to put behind her. Gradually, Clem recovers but she finds herself restless – ‘There is not enough – though enough of what she was not clear’ – and finally determined to assert herself.
Chance brings an encounter with Vincent Fortune, left with severe facial wounds by his time in the trenches. Clem is drawn to him by a resemblence – real or imagined – to someone she once cared about deeply. The mask Vincent wears seems as much a way of concealing the baser aspects of his nature as a means of hiding his injuries. Yet, as we learn more about his background, his wartime experiences and impact of his injuries, he becomes a slightly more sympathic character. I was especially touched by his pathetic devotion to his landlady, Doll, imagining his feelings are returned despite all evidence to the contrary. The events that follow will have consequences for Clem, revealing an unexpected source of love and loyalty, but even more so for Vincent. His is a story of misfortune, not fortune, and the final sections of the book will surely tug at the heartstrings.
As Clem observes at one point, ‘It was normal to be damaged these days, visibly or not’. Blasted Things explores the multiple ways in which that damage can manifest itself and the struggle to overcome it, if indeed it ever can be. The book left a deep impression on me both for the quality of the writing and the power of the story it tells.
In three words: Intense, compelling, moving
Try something similar: The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason
About the Author
Lesley Glaister is a fiction writer, poet, playwright and teacher of writing. She has published fourteen adult novels, the first of a YA trilogy and numerous short stories. She received both a Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask award for Honour Thy Father (1990), and has won or been listed for several literary prizes for her other work. She has three adult sons and lives in Edinburgh (with frequent sojourns to Orkney) with husband Andrew Greig. She teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.