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Monday, May 22, 2006

Reader's Diary #92- Kevin Major: No Man's Land (FINISHED)


Kevin Major plays the role of fate in No Man's Land, leading soldiers to their inevitable destiny.

I've finally been able to put my finger on why No Man's Land held my attention. I couldn't quite understand how it was able to this, seeing as I knew the outcome of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel before I had even begun the book. But finally I was able to put my finger on it. What made people enjoy James Cameron's Titanic? Loss of senses, sure. But more than that, people have a morbid fascination with tragedy and we'll watch even knowing the end result. Still, Cameron and Major weren't content to leave it there. Instead, they fictionalized particular characters so that we couldn't have all the facts beforehand, giving a slight glimmer of hope for these characters. While in Titanic we were asking, will Jack be one of the 706 survivors? in No Man's Land we ask will Hayward, Clarke and Martin be among the few survivors? Cheap ploy to keep our interest? Not necessarily- in both cases real people do play a role, and the real participants never venture far from our thoughts.

Am I being unfair to No Man's Land by drawing comparisons to the somewhat cheesy Titanic? I don't think so- there are more similarities. The same complaints about Titanic can be made here. Cameron tacked on a love story, so did Major. Cameron relied on cliches, so did Major. Cameron had Celine Dion, and well, Major does have some respectability.

Actually, No Man's Land did get better towards the end. I liked how Major explored the psychology of the men in the minutes counting down to zero hour. All were obviously tensed to their limits, but each dealt with it in their own way. Some reminisced about home, some made plans for afterwards, some put on brave faces, some (though they were condemned for it) prophesized their doom, some clung to friendships, and others felt completely alone. I love that despite an army's attempts to create a single unit, individuality stubbornly refuses to die.

I also enjoyed Major's pacing of the chapters. Counting down the minutes, chapters often became shorter and shorter and it really built up the tension. Then the men finally went "over the top" and the chapter was longer- dragging on events that for the soldiers must have felt like an eternity. Occasionally, the effect was ruined by cheesy moments (such as Hayward, Clarke and Martin all somehow finding one another on the battlefield), but the overall effect of the ending was not lost. I won't spoil it here by saying whether not either or all of these three characters survived.

On June 16th, CBC Newfoundland and Labrador will be discussing this book on air during their Radio Noon program. Earlier this year I had been contact with host, Anne Budgell about recording an mp3 of my thoughts about this book to be played on air at that time. I haven't heard anything from the good people at CBC since, so I'm not sure if it's a go or not. In either case, I hope that they actually talk about the merits or faults of the book, and that the discussion doesn't turn into patriotic praise for the Newfoundland Regiment. There's a time and place for that, but not during a book discussion. There's a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Will Ferrell shows up at a board meeting wearing nothing but an American flag thong. It's obviously inappropriate (not to mention disgusting) but people are afraid to say anything because they don't want to appear unAmerican. Likewise, I hope people don't shy away from critiquing Kevin Major's work because they're afraid of being disrespectful to the Veterans.

1 comment:

Wanda said...

"I love that despite an army's attempts to create a single unit, individuality stubbornly refuses to die."

It's this same individuality that's present in books and movies like Passendale, Coventry etc., that alllows the reader to connect to the tradgedy. Cheesy? Well, yes, at certain times sure but it sticks with me in a much more meaningful way than the dry facts of high school history books.

How did things go with the CBC, did your mp3 get air time?