Saturday 5 March 2016

Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker

Captain Tom Barnes is leading British troups in a war zone. Two boys are growing up there, sharing a prized bicycle and flying kites, before finding themselves separated once the soldiers appear in their countryside.
On all sides of this conflict, people are about to be caught up in the violence, from the man who trains one boy to fight the infidel invaders to Barnes's family waiting for him at home.
We see them not as they see themselves, but as all the objects surrounding them do; shoes and boots, a helmet, a trove of dollars, a drone, that bike, weaponry, a bag of fertilizer, a medal, a beer glass, a snowflake, dog tags, an exploding IED and the medical implements that are subsequently employed.
Anatomy of a Soldier is a moving, enlightening and fiercely dramatic novel about one man's journey of survival and the experiences of those around him.
Forty-five objects, one unforgettable story. 

Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker was published by Faber on 25 February 2016 and is the author's debut novel.

I have never read a novel quite like Anatomy of a Soldier. It is original and clever and told in voices that are savage and brutal, yet beguiling and beautiful at the same time.

Harry Parker recounts Tom Barnes's story of survival, and the stories of the young boys who are reaching maturity in a homeland that is a battlefield, by using inanimate objects as the narrative voices. This unusual and intriguing structure and style has enabled him to tell the story without any human emotional baggage, or viewpoint or bias. We all have objects that remind of us certain things, and it is often the inanimate thing that plays a large part in the memories that shape our world, this is so evident in this story of life, and death on the battlefield.

"I have BA5799 written on my tongue
and he walked me across the tarmac
towards a city of white tents and cream hangars,
floating on that shimmering desert mirror."
I cried before I reached the end of page two of Anatomy of a Soldier, as Tom Barnes suffers the injury that will shape the rest of the book. The words are brutal and savage, and the reader is not spared from the full horror of what humans do to each other, on a daily basis, all over the world.

After the initial horrific incident, the reader is taken back and forth. We learn about Tom Barnes before he was blown up, and about his recovery. He meet his family, and his friends, even the woman who always quite fancied him, but doesn't know what to say to him now. But this is not a one-sided story, it also looks deeply at the lives of the insurgents; the people who were born and raised in the land that is now littered with bombs and land mines, where tanks and guns and soldiers march pass front doors and gardens every day. We see the human side of the so-called enemy, we meet their parents and friends, we share their joy at riding a bicycle and flying a kite. Harry Parker gets under the skin of his characters, allowing the reader to take a good look at what makes men become enemies and how death and injury can impact feelings and beliefs.

There are times when the novel feels disorientating, it switches quickly, from place to place, from time to time and from one viewpoint to another, but having read an interview with the author, I now realise that this was his intention. Anatomy of a Soldier is about a bomb exploding, it's about opening your eyes and wondering where you are, and what is happening and he creates that feeling with his words and structure.

Anatomy of a Soldier is brilliantly written, it certainly shows rather than tells, and the horror and brutality is there in every detail. Yet it is also a story of hope and new beginnings, of tenacity, determination and stamina. The words are creative and artistic, yet genuine and so very very important.

My thanks to Faber, the publisher, who sent my copy for review.

Author photo © Gemma Day
Harry Parker grew up in Wiltshire. 

He was educated at Falmouth College of Art and University College London. He joined the British Army when he was 23 and served in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009 as a Captain. 

He is now a write and artist and lives in London.

Check out the website for Anatomy of a Soldier

Follow him on Twitter @harrybparker

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