Monday, 20 January 2014

Carried a Step Too Far: THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried
This review is of a book that is neither Ancient history nor Medieval history.
Some may even question if it is even historical fiction, but according to many historical fiction standards (including the Historical Writers Association), the Vietnam War does fit within the realms of historical fiction. And because it is a personal favourite review of mine, I wanted to share it with the blog. So that it gets stored here with my other reviews.

My review of the haunting book, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

This is an extremely hard review for me to compile, because I am extremely conflicted on my impression of this book. And I think this reflects the very nature of the stories presented to us in The Things They Carried. They are conflicted, true, not true, true, not true. Happening truth, story truth. A maelstrom of fiction and non fiction that sometimes feels raw and poignant and sometimes feels exaggerated and fake.

I gave it 4 stars, and yet sometimes I think it was 3 stars, and then at other times I think was 5 stars. 4 stars, I beleive, is the line in the sand for me.

I feel the only way to review this book is to cut it into positives and negatives.
I trawled through a lot of online reviews looking for others who felt like I did about the negatives of this book, but whilst there are ample 4 stars and a few less than, no-one tells me why they dropped that star. I will tell you why I dropped mine.
It comes down to fiction and non fiction. I do not like my lines blurred. In war fiction written by a vet I like to feel that it is fiction drawn on life experience. In my Non Fiction, I like to feel that what I am reading is the vets true emotions and experiences without exaggeration or lies.
This book bludgeons both my categories and gives me something that is not quite either. And I hate to say it, but sometimes amidst the authors heart felt truths lies the lurking ugliness of falseness. Of exaggeration and drama created purely because the author had not much of a story to tell.
I feel this book is one long feast of platitudes.

And yet it is also emotionally scarring and based enough on truth to get me where it hurts.
In 'the Nam', in the jungle, there was a platoon of young men. Some of them died, some of them did not. Tim O'Brien did not, and he has tried to do his best to heal and memorialise and I beleive that he has done that to effect.
There are plenty of positives to this book. The writing for one is brilliant at times, the stories for their part are wounding at times.
There is not a doubt in my mind that the combination of O'Brien's writing and his wounding stories will leave every reader in a different state of contemplation in the end. For me, this was a 4 star book, for you it will be a 5 star book, for the rare few it will be 3 or less.

The fact is though, that this book was/is a bestseller and when you look down the list of reviewers on Goodreads there is one thing that you should notice. It does not matter what your race, your country, your sex or age, your likes or dislikes, your favourite genre of book, this novel has something for everyone and it is being read by all sorts. That, for the memory of our Vietnam Vets, is a very good thing indeed and that, is probably the biggest positive to come out of this book altogether.

- MM

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