No Man’s Land deserves all the superlative adjectives used to describe greatness. Adjectives like epic, sweeping, all-consuming, absorbing, and definitely adjectives that describe this masterful work of storytelling. Thank you to Netgalley and Harper for providing the e-ARC. I read this as a Remembrance Day read, and just like Findley’s The Wars, this was a remarkable and moving feat of storytelling honouring those that fought in the Great War.
Before we get to the epic and breathtaking action on the Somme however, we first meet Adam Raine when he is a very young boy struggling to survive in a greatly impoverished home in Victorian London. From there, and following a great family tragedy, Adam and his father go to Scarsdale and the coal mines. His father is determined that Adam be an educated man and not work the mines. Adam struggles with being on the outside and in a place where the young men his age view him through eyes filled with resentment. Adam needs to earn their respect and friendship and also wishes to become his own man. When tragedy strikes his family once again, following a clash between the mine workers and their employer, John Scarsdale, Adam again struggles to be his own man, and maintain the respect of his friends while living under the Scarsdale’s roof. Here, Adam also meets and falls in love with the Rector’s daughter Miriam.
Adam gets to finally strike out to be his own man and studies at Oxford, but war breaks out and Adam can only put off going to fight for so long. But before we get to this stunning part of the story, we must talk about the wonderful imagery used throughout. And although I could have transcribed almost every part where Adam is at war, I did manage to write down some of the details when Adam was living with his uncle and father at the mines. The comparison of the men going to work down in the mine compared to when they left the mine was terrific and gives a little bit of insight to Tolkien’s wonderful writing:
On the way to work the men are jovial, joking and upbeat. Yet, when the men were finishing their shift they were described where, “they were black with coal, blinking bleary eyes in the sunlight as they shuffled wearily along.” I thought that was such an excellent contrast. The novel is filled with vivid and stunning imagery like this.
The section on the Somme contains writing that is nothing short of remarkable. I always felt as though I was right there and my breath was taken away multiple times. I was left completely breathless by the description, imagery and action. Here again, the contrasts where Adam is at war and when he is at home is breathtaking. For certain, the vivid horrors of what was experienced for Adam and his friends from Scarsdale made for riveting reading and it was as though Tolkien transported himself onto the battlefield.
I was completely consumed by this story, didn’t want to put it down and truly, I wanted to marry Adam Raine. No Man’s Land was a gift of wonderful storytelling to us, and I will now read anything Simon Tolkien writes. But no, this still means I won’t be reading his grandfather’s The Lord of the Rings, much to my son’s dismay. :-)