I shudder to think of what soldiers have to witness whist taking to the battlefield, regardless of what war they were fighting in Some return home bathed in glory, but for others mental anguish and post traumatic stress can be emotionally paralyzing What though of shell shock , unable to remember the horrors of war would surely be a blessing , but then again not For loved ones back at home have to pick up the fragmented pieces of someones lost memories, and welcome back a complete stranger.Re I shudder to think of what soldiers have to witness whist taking to the battlefield, regardless of what war they were fighting in Some return home bathed in glory, but for others mental anguish and post traumatic stress can be emotionally paralyzing What though of shell shock , unable to remember the horrors of war would surely be a blessing , but then again not For loved ones back at home have to pick up the fragmented pieces of someones lost memories, and welcome back a complete stranger.Reading The return of the Soldier was like diving into deep water, then watching the ripple effects as they drift away Rebecca West was apparently the first woman to write of the Great War And this taut short novel from 1918 tells of Chris, a young English soldier with memory loss, robbing him of the last 15 years The narrative is told from the perspective not from the frontline but from the view point of three woman, Kitty the wife, cousin Jenny, and Margaret, Chris s first love, she is the one Chris remembers most, causing pain for Kitty that she is unknown to him This in simple terms is a tale of loss, and those surviving the burdening wreckage back at home It may have a tragic and sad premise, but it also contains some beautifully rendered passages of writing.When Chris returns to the family s estate, a home he shares with Kitty and his cousin, Jenny, they turn the home into a sort of castle for him, a place where he should feel at piece and be happy, but he can t deal with his surroundings and believes he is still in love with his sweetheart Margaret from years before Jenny, the book s first person narrator, recognizes his longing for the past and laments the loss of their close friendship Kitty struggles with Chris s behaviour, and becomes cold and withdrawn, whist for Chris he insists that he simply must see Margaret now married herself , his love from a bygone era There is hardly any mention of war once these four people start to tackle the problems they face, with much of the story devoted to Jenny s observations of the British countryside West gives the reader much to contemplate, and the story itself feels like ones distant dream We also learn that Chris and Kitty once had a child, who sadly passed away, leading the story to be polished off in a tender and heartfelt manner.Although I found the story itself interesting, it s short length didn t do the characters full justice, I wanted to spendtime with them, this is testament to West s poetic writing, which was so pleasing on the eye But she doesn t just lay it all out there on picnic blanket, you do have to read between the lines, work through observations, and ponder on gathered thoughts West also tackles the idea of love, and how time can take it s toll on those involved directly, you do wonder if Chris and Kitty s relationship would survived, regardless of his shell shock Everything ends rather abruptly, I felt a little bit cheated, but that s only because I admired so much what went before How could you not enjoy a book that includes the idea of an over confiding explanation made by a shabby visitor while using the door mat almost too zealously PLOTIn this slim novel set during WW1, Charles and Kitty live in tasteful opulence, along with his cousin Jenny, who tells the story of Charles memory loss He returns to England with no memory of the last 15 years, desperate to see his youthful and lower class love, Margaret, who is also now married to someone else.The story is reall How could you not enjoy a book that includes the idea of an over confiding explanation made by a shabby visitor while using the door mat almost too zealously PLOTIn this slim novel set during WW1, Charles and Kitty live in tasteful opulence, along with his cousin Jenny, who tells the story of Charles memory loss He returns to England with no memory of the last 15 years, desperate to see his youthful and lower class love, Margaret, who is also now married to someone else.The story is really about the three women, their relationship with Charles, each other and their attitude to his condition Can and should they persuade him of the truth, when he seems so happy as he is It is enhanced by some significant, and no doubt deliberate, omissions In particular, we never know the content of some letters and Jenny is not privy to all that passes between Charles and Margaret when he returns.LYRICAL LANGUAGESections of it readlike poetry The dusk flowed in wet and cool as if to put out the fire of confusion and the furniture, very visible through the soft evening opacity with the observant brightness of old well polished wood, seemed terribly aware Strangeness had come into the house and everything was appalled by it, even time There are dark but insightful asides desolate merriment of an inattentively played pianola and dark themes MEMORY LOSSThe pain of confusion caused by memory loss is the most obvious all the inhabitants of this new tract of time were his enemies, all its circumstances his prison bars and his loss of memory was a triumph over the limitation of language which prevents the mass of men making explicit statement about their spiritual relationships.More strangely, Jenny idolises Charles far too much for a platonic cousin, though oddly, it doesn t seem to cause any friction She talks of her frenzied love , his amazing goodness , our task of refreshing him and passion for Chris was our point of honour.CLASSThere are nasty attitudes to the lower middle classes Jenny finds Margaret physically repellent, though she tries to be outwardly polite In her narration, she mentions the squalor of Margaret s home though Margaret can afford a part time maid , that she is not so much a person as an implication of dreary poverty and that it would have been such agony to the finger tips to touch any part of her apparel In contrast, Charles ancestral home was a vast piece of space partitioned off from the universe and decorated partly for beauty and partly to make our privacyinsolent Despite, orprobably because of herhumble background, Margaret sees through this brittle and selfish beauty to reveal the burden of wealth, It s a big place How poor Chris must have worked to keep it up Jenny s unspoken response is that It had been our pretence that by organising a costly life we had been the servants of his desire But she revealed the truth I doubt modern readers will have much fondness for Kitty or Jenny, but it is a poignant and excellently written book I ll tell you I think the Second World War was muchcomfortable because in the First World War the position of women was so terrible, because there you were, not in danger Men were going out and getting killed for you and you d much prefer they weren t There was a genuine humanitarian feeling of guilt about that in the first war It was very curious, you see There I sat on my balcony in Leigh on Sea and heard guns going in France It was a most peculiar war It was really better, in I ll tell you I think the Second World War was muchcomfortable because in the First World War the position of women was so terrible, because there you were, not in danger Men were going out and getting killed for you and you d much prefer they weren t There was a genuine humanitarian feeling of guilt about that in the first war It was very curious, you see There I sat on my balcony in Leigh on Sea and heard guns going in France It was a most peculiar war It was really better, in the Second World War, when the people at home got bombed I found it a relief You were taking your chance and you might be killed and you weren t in that pampered sort of unnatural state Rebecca West in a 1981 interview with the Paris Review I kept thinking of this quote when I was reading The Return of the Soldier, because I feel like it s a novel that comes out of that mixture of anger and guilt that Rebecca West is talking about anger at the complacency of civilians, and guilt at the idea that you are one of them This is at least one way to explain the intense unlikeability of the central characters.A slim parable set during the First World War, the book centres on two women in exactly that pampered, unnatural state that West complained about passing their time in luxurious indolence at their country seat while they wait for the man of the house to return from the front Against this background, West orchestrates a simple but diverting ethical dilemma when Captain Chris Baldry does come back, he s shell shocked and suffering from acute amnesia He can t remember the last fifteen years of his life, he has no idea who his wife is, and he s demanding to see the woman he was in love with fifteen years ago.It should be the set up for a melodrama, but West instead uses it rather unexpectedly to make a quick, vicious exploration of class relations and the nature of authenticity Mrs Grey our soldier s old flame, long since married to someone else is a working class lady, and our upper class narrator finds her uncongenial to a degree that leaves a modern reader breathless Mrs Grey is described as being repulsively furred with neglect and poverty , her face sour with thrift , a cancerous blot on the fair world not so much a person as an implication of dreary poverty, like an open door in a mean house that lets out the smell of cooking cabbage and the screams of children.What this class horror boils down to is an instinctive feeling that Mrs Grey, and those like her, are somehow not quite human not fully real Like her tortoise shell umbrella, she is unveracious a word that crops up twice And this unpleasant impulse is played out against the struggle over what to do with Chris, whom shell shock has now delivered into his own unveracious world where, to his wife s consternation, he s perfectly happy.Happiness may be important, but the argument made by this book is that truth isimportant It is a draught that we must drink or not be fully human By the end of the novel the narrator has come to see that it s Chris s elegant wife, not his working class ex, who is the falsest thing on earth , and she draws a sobering conclusion about her own cherished existence The whole truth about us lies in our material seeming.This is what makes the war so effective as a backdrop an unignorable reality that threatens to make all these interpersonal dramas seem false pampered , unnatural in comparison.This is the sort of book that makes me really appreciate the discipline of reviewing, because it s only as I ve tried try to get my thoughts down in words that I realise quite how much is going on here, considering the whole thing can be read in a couple of hours It would make an excellent companion read to JL Carr s A Month in the Country, another English novel exploring the effects of shell shock This was actually Rebecca West s first novel, written when she was just 24 she was 89 when she gave the interview at the top of this review, and as sharp as ever , and there is perhaps a certain immaturity to the set up But you still feel that you re communing with a uniquely incisive mind, and with so many ideas fizzing around here, it represents extraordinary bang for your buck for 140 pages It s a good news bad news kind of thing Bad news is your husband has been away serving in the trenches in World War One and you haven t heard anything from him for a while The good news is that you find out that your husband is physically well Bad news is that he might have shell shock Good news is that he s coming back home next week Bad news when he arrives he can no longer remember the last 15 years It s like so your name is Kitty and you re my wife Really But what he can remember It s a good news bad news kind of thing Bad news is your husband has been away serving in the trenches in World War One and you haven t heard anything from him for a while The good news is that you find out that your husband is physically well Bad news is that he might have shell shock Good news is that he s coming back home next week Bad news when he arrives he can no longer remember the last 15 years It s like so your name is Kitty and you re my wife Really But what he can remember is his true love of 15 years ago, who turns out to be shock horror a working class girl called Margaret, who is now a dowdy married woman He longs to see Margaret So they go and fetch her.How awkward is that The star of this show however is the narrator Jenny who is an extraordinarily uncomfortable creation She is the unmarried cousin who lived with the fabulously rich couple in their country home and really you would have to say that she s in love with her cousin Chris, the returned soldier, and also worships Kitty, his picture perfect wife There s something murky going on here When Margaret is disinterred from the lower depths Jenny cannot control her feelings of loathing and disgust For Jenny, this Margaret is not so much a person as an implication of dreary poverty, like an open door in a mean house that lets out the smell of cooking cabbage and the screams of childrenNow usually, these upper class types are careful to conceal their horror of the working class from us behind a screen of bland genteel politeness, like you see when the Royal family meets the public But the gloves are off when Margaret trudges up the drive Surely she must see that no one accustomed to live here could help wincing at such external dinginess as hersJenny observes poor Margaret in the hallway standing next to a table with an exquisite objet d art on it, and she comes out with this quite amazing sentence This might be my sentence of the year so far note, the plumes are feathers on her hat Beside the pure black of the bowl her rusty plumes looked horrible beside that white nymph, eternally innocent of all but the contemplation of beauty, her opaque skin and her suffering wre offensive beside its air of being the coolly conceived and leisurely executed production of a hand and brain lifted by their rare quality to the service of the not absolutely necessary, her appearance of having but for the moment ceased to cope with a vexed and needy environment struck one as a cancerous blot on the fair world This novel is probably too much of a neat parable on the surface, but below the waterline there are enough festering dank weeds and mouths with teeth to make any psychologist smile grimly.Pretty much recommended.Oh yes, the other bad news is that Rebecca West wrote this when she was 24, further fracturing my rule that good novels can t be written by anyone under 30 I may have to abandon that rule 3 starsI can sum things up here with an oxymoron This one was too much work and too leisurely for me Plus I didn t connect with three of the main characters Sounds like a one star, doesn t it Well, no.Let me explain By too much work, I mean this one required my full attention No distractions allowed Despite making sure I was in a quiet room, I had to reread lots of sections at least twice to get the gist Sometimes I just gave up on the gist To be fair, my concentration could have been o 3 starsI can sum things up here with an oxymoron This one was too much work and too leisurely for me Plus I didn t connect with three of the main characters Sounds like a one star, doesn t it Well, no.Let me explain By too much work, I mean this one required my full attention No distractions allowed Despite making sure I was in a quiet room, I had to reread lots of sections at least twice to get the gist Sometimes I just gave up on the gist To be fair, my concentration could have been off when I read it, but dang, it was too much work And it was leisurely The author took her time in describing the settings, which for me slowed the narrative It gave too much leash for my mind to wander and then there went my concentration again And I didn t care much for Chris way underdeveloped , Kitty, or even Jenny who was just okay But this is not a 1 star piece of writing That would be a terrible insult to the author To me, it s a 3 star novella Though there was far too much description and need for me to use my brain, Ms West can really write Her prose is lyrical and lush and just so beautiful I got to look up and learn a few new words, which I always enjoy And I did love the 4th main character of the book, Margaret She is sweet and loving and oh so wise This book is also very thought provoking It has depth It makes the reader think but it crossed the line with me and made my head hurt I also maintained a great interest in how it would end Though this bookette was tough on me, I can at least recognize that it is a very good novella that I bet most devoted literary fiction readers will absolutely love It was written in 1918 so free copies are available This review contains spoilers.Chris Baldry is the soldier in the novel, an English soldier returning from the battlefield of WWI, and he is suffering shell shock which has erased the last 15 years of his memory He is returning to three women Kitty, his wife who he does not remember at all Jenny, his cousin, who lives in the household, who he remembers as a younger girl and Margaret, a girl he loved in his youth and believes now that he still loves It seemed to me that two of the three women This review contains spoilers.Chris Baldry is the soldier in the novel, an English soldier returning from the battlefield of WWI, and he is suffering shell shock which has erased the last 15 years of his memory He is returning to three women Kitty, his wife who he does not remember at all Jenny, his cousin, who lives in the household, who he remembers as a younger girl and Margaret, a girl he loved in his youth and believes now that he still loves It seemed to me that two of the three women are in love with him, neither of them his wife There is a littleinvolved and it s a bit convoluted, and it was difficult to decide how I wanted it to end, who to pull for so to speak I wasn t crazy about the ending I like my endings all nicely tied up with a big bow I knew immediately when I started this that I was hooked The writing grabbed me from the start Then later I marveled at how expertly the characters were drawn what they did and said and thought all meshed perfectly Finally what fascinated me was the theme, the book s central question Do you force a person to recognize the truth even if that truth may lead to unhappiness This is a perfect book to discuss in a book club Discussion is sure to be lively I adore how Rebecca West draws places I knew immediately when I started this that I was hooked The writing grabbed me from the start Then later I marveled at how expertly the characters were drawn what they did and said and thought all meshed perfectly Finally what fascinated me was the theme, the book s central question Do you force a person to recognize the truth even if that truth may lead to unhappiness This is a perfect book to discuss in a book club Discussion is sure to be lively I adore how Rebecca West draws places and scenes The fields, the flowers, the trees, the River Thames How a person holds their body, how a character juts out a chin, smiles, freezes with insecurity or envelops another in a warm embrace West knows how people reveal their inner selves through movement How those of one social class view those of another is shown through movements, through thoughts and through words You do not need to see this played out at the cinema you see it right before your eyes through the author s words I do not want to tell you much about the central theme I cannot do it justice The beauty of the book is how perfectly West envelops the reader in the dilemma I ll only say that the story is about a soldier returned from the war with amnesia He no longer remembers his wife He does remember his first love and he does remember his childhood friend Do we forget what we want to forget Wanda McCaddon narrates the audiobook, using here the alias Nadia May I highly recommend listening to this read by McCaddon This should be read just as she reads it The three women are perfectly portrayed one as a dear friend with a tinge of jealousy, one as the legitimate wife and one who cares and loves and is self effacing The reading is very British and true to the era Just lovely It seems even I can really, really like short books This one I totally enjoyed Thank goodness I tried another by Rebecca West I have given Black Lamb and Grey Falcon five stars and The Fountain Overflows a measly one star Now The Return of the Soldier gets four Writing her first novel during World War I, West examines the relationship between three women and a soldier suffering from shell shock This novel of an enclosed world invaded by public events also embodies in its characters the shifts in England s class structures at the beginning of the twentieth century If there is such a thing as a perfect book, this is it Rebecca West s prose is like poetry each word perfectly chosen, each phrase perfectly turned It s short enough to read during a pedicure, but the emotional wallop it packs demands a better setting perhaps a conservatoryor a summerhouse if only At any rate, I wouldn t suggest the nail salon, where I just read it, or Highway 5, where I first listened to it on tape Regardless of where you read it, though, it s an absolutel If there is such a thing as a perfect book, this is it Rebecca West s prose is like poetry each word perfectly chosen, each phrase perfectly turned It s short enough to read during a pedicure, but the emotional wallop it packs demands a better setting perhaps a conservatoryor a summerhouse if only At any rate, I wouldn t suggest the nail salon, where I just read it, or Highway 5, where I first listened to it on tape Regardless of where you read it, though, it s an absolutely haunting story Don t read the back cover it gives too much away The basic premise is gripping enough Captain Chris Baldry, serving somewhere in France, hasn t written home in two weeks Chris s wife Kitty and his cousin Jenny receive an unusual visitor Mrs William Grey, a woman repulsively furred with neglect and poverty This unknown person, with her unforgivable raincoat, has come to inform them that Chris has been wounded and must be suffering from shell shock Inexplicably, he has cabled her, not his wife and cousin This indignity causes Kittypain than the fact that her husband may be injured A letter to cousin Jenny the following day confirms that Chris has indeed been wounded and is coming home to recover the kicker is he s suffering from amnesia and thinks it s 15 years earlier You can imagine the implications he remembers neither his glamorous wife nor the extensive changes to his house But who is this woman, Mrs Grey And how is Chris to recover from such a strange ailment And should he recover, when recovery means returning to the front Rarely have I read such a poignant exploration of love and sacrifice and a completely unexpected cost of war Published in 1918, it was the only significant novel about the Great War written by a woman, and written while the end of the war still wasn t in sight Rereading this, I now take issue with my own assertions in my first read review below that this is a simple and simply told story despite this being West s first novel, she chooses to tell the story via Jenny, Chris cousin, secretly in love with him, and an interestingly limited narrator She is perhaps the person who is most changed by events in the book moving from an unthinking, in bred class prejudice that instinctually despises Margaret to something farperceptive, open, and enli Rereading this, I now take issue with my own assertions in my first read review below that this is a simple and simply told story despite this being West s first novel, she chooses to tell the story via Jenny, Chris cousin, secretly in love with him, and an interestingly limited narrator She is perhaps the person who is most changed by events in the book moving from an unthinking, in bred class prejudice that instinctually despises Margaret to something farperceptive, open, and enlightened Chris, the eponymous soldier is the least articulated of characters not surprisingly, perhaps, West concentrates on the three women pretty, vacuous Kitty faded Margaret whose open hearted graciousness becomes a form of sanctuary, if only temporary and Jenny herself, the perpetual looker on.In lots of ways the war itself is almost unnecessary there s no sense of privation at Baldry court, almost an oasis of calm and salvation, and Chris amnesia could have been prompted in other circumstances And yet, in other ways, this is a book which encapsulates how the war helped to break down social and class based securities Baldry Court is breached by Margaret with her shabby yellow raincoat, yet it embraces her, is enriched by her, and will be the poorer when she is exiled and when Kitty is, once , its chatelaine So this is deceptively simple at first glance and easy to read but the use of a limited 1st person narrator whose vision we don t always share especially at the start makes this technically skilled A subtle, impressive novel, farresonant than its slim pages might indicate Set in 1916, Chris is wounded in France and, shell shocked, loses his memory Fifteen years are wiped out and he becomes again the twenty one year old young man just graduated from university falling in love for the first time, rather than the thirty six year old man with a wife and responsibilities which he really is Told through the voice of his devoted cousin, this is a simple and simply told story which yet is hugely resonant and deeply moving.There are no literary tricks to the narration, no self conscious flourishes and, as readers, we are drawn close inside a detailed and intimate story, that is both emotionally restrained and feels very true.The three women Kitty, the beautiful wife Jenny, the devoted cousin Margaret, the lower class lover are the focus of the book, and West dissects them and their social places with a scalpel, sharp and accurate.The Freudian psychology which imbues the end of the story feels a little old fashioned now, but would have been relatively fresh at the time of writing 1918 19.Overall this is a much deeper story than appears on the simple surface the return refers not just to the physical return of Chris, but also his return to his place in the social world of the time and the reassumption of all the responsibilities and privileges that go with that And his reluctance and stoicism in the face of those is a sad indictment of what is meant and means to be a man