Thursday, May 9, 2013
Book review: Matterhorn, a Vietnam War novel
Amongst a stack of books I recently got for the Kindle was Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes. Vietnam is not one of those wars that I tend to read about - mainly because it's still in many ways raw - but as this was a novel I thought I would give it a shot and see what it was like.
I finished the book last night, and have to say that I was impressed. Marlantes may not be a literary master, but there are moments when you might almost think he was. Some of the passages display lovely lyrical qualities, and the hard-won wisdom that underpins his descriptions and observations gives the novel authenticity, power and a relevance that can evoke unexpectedly emotional responses.
Some of the characters and scenes verge upon the stereotypical, but the sense that the author has known these people, seen these places and lived these experiences prevents any slip into terminal cliche.
Themes the book touches upon include innocence lost, the nature of friendship, race relations and the psychology of war. The relationship I developed with the protagonist was complex, and the author immerses the reader in the blood, dirt and drink of Vietnam so thoroughly that we can begin to understand some of the damage that the ordinary man must do to himself to participate in warfare, and what things will enable him to accept the cost to self.
I have not gone into any plot details here, but if you are interested in a fictionalized account of a young man coping with his experiences as a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam, you could do worse than read this book.