Strange Meeting - Susan Hill

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Strange Meeting - Susan Hill

John Hilliard, a young subaltern returning to the Western Front after a brief period of sick leave back in England blind to the horrors of the trenche...

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Review of "Strange Meeting - Susan Hill"

published 28/06/2011 | JOHNV
Member since : 13/07/2000
Reviews : 886
Members who trust : 237
About me :
2000-2015, 886 reviews. Thanks all - it was fun while it lasted, but nothing lasts forever.
Super
Pro Moving story of relationships in war
Cons Slightly difficult to get into
very helpful
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"A haunting tale of war and friendship"

Susan Hill

Susan Hill

First published in 1971, ‘Strange Meeting’, which takes its title from a poem of the name by war poet Wilfred Owen, is a novel about relationships during the Great War. As Susan Hill says in an Afterword, written for publication in the 1989 reprint, it is not a book whose ‘subject is war and the pity of war’, so much as about human love, two survivors among thousands ‘who were slaughtered in a war perhaps more futile and meaningless than any other in history.’

The story

At the beginning we meet John Hilliard, a young subaltern, lying awake in a military hospital, recovering from a shrapnel wound received on the western front. For three weeks, he has been afraid to go to sleep, and is speaking to Dr Crawford, whom he has known since childhood. He then returns home briefly on sick leave back in England, but it is an uncomfortable experience and he finds it hard to adapt to the old way of life there. Neither his sister, to whom he had been very close, or their parents have any real idea of the horrific conditions he has been enduring in the trenches. In no time he is longing to get back to the western front. When he does, he finds that his batman and many others whom he knew have been killed. Moreover the group's Commanding Officer, Colonel Garrett, has aged greatly under the stress of war, and has taken to drinking heavily.

Hilliard now finds himself sharing a room with a new officer, David Barton, as they await a call back to the front. The inexperienced Barton has had comparatively little experience of the war, and has never yet seen a dead body. When he and Hilliard see the wreckage of a German plane crash and the men who were killed as a result, he is naturally very shocked. Gradually his letters home to his own family convey how he is becoming hardened by everything at the battlefront, the misery and suffering he sees all around him. He complains that they are drones, not fighting men.

As the officers arrive at their billets, they learn that a new recruit, Harris, is virtually paralysed with terror and refuses to come out from the cellar. They talk him out of his fears and persuade him to come outside. Within minutes a shell falls on the billets and Harris is killed at once. The officers left behind are torn between guilt at inadvertently sending him to his death while arguing that he is fortunate in that he has been spared life in the trenches, possibly leading to more mental agony and a slow lingering end.

The book is largely concerned with human relationships, and beyond this, little happens. From one point of view, maybe it falls a little flat in that there are no really cataclysmic events beyond what we might call the sordid fog of the war itself. However there is no shortage of atmosphere. When the men go to Feuvry, they find there is barely a building left intact in the town after it had been shelled and occupied by the Germans soon after the outbreak of war. All that remains are piles of rubble and holes in the ground, fragments of broken children’s toys and furniture, pieces of chairs sticking out from the debris, rusted spring coils from sofas – all sad reminders of an apparently once secure and peaceful existence brutally shattered.

As for the rest of the story between Hilliard and Barton, is it simply the tale of a friendship forged in times of great adversity, or is it any more than that? The author leaves a certain amount to the imagination. There is an interesting underlying theme in the contrast between Hilliard’s formal, rather chilly family and Barton’s much closer siblings. The former evidently has an emotional vacuum which cries out to be filled.

Finally

I’d recommend this book with reservations. For me it was a little hard to get into, before I became acquainted with the characters. Ultimately it is quite a moving and powerful if somewhat difficult story, certainly a penetrating one in its analysis of relationships and feelings of guilt at sending men to their deaths, boredom, apprehension, and fear.


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Comments on this review

  • LadyValkyrie published 23/10/2011
    Hmm, one I'd like to read just to see what I think of it.
  • Revo9 published 01/08/2011
    Nice review, seems an interesting book.
  • jonathanb published 21/07/2011
    Not exactly an uplifitng read by the sound of it, but a valuable reminder of how horrific life (and death) was in the trenches.
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Product Information : Strange Meeting - Susan Hill

Manufacturer's product description

John Hilliard, a young subaltern returning to the Western Front after a brief period of sick leave back in England blind to the horrors of the trenches, finds his battalion tragically altered.

Product Details

EAN: 9780140036954

Type: Fiction, Poetry

Genre: Historical Fiction

Title: Strange Meeting

Author: Susan Hill, Wilfred Owen

Edition: Paperback

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

ISBN: 0140036954

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Listed on Ciao since: 09/06/2009

Strange Meeting - Susan Hill - Review - A haunting tale of war and friendship

JOHNV 4

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Quote-start

A haunting tale of war and friendship

Quote-end
28.06.2011

Advantages:
Moving story of relationships in war

Disadvantages:
Slightly difficult to get into

Recommendable Yes:

Detailed rating:

Would you read it again?

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ReadabilityGood

How does it compare to similar books?Very good

79 Ciao members have rated this review on average: very helpful See ratings
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helpful by (1%):
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First published in 1971, Strange Meeting, which takes its title from a poem of the name by war poet Wilfred Owen, is a novel about relationships during the Great War. As Susan Hill says in an Afterword, written for publication in the 1989 reprint, it is not a book whose subject is war and the pity of war, so much as about human love, two survivors among thousands who were slaughtered in a war perhaps more futile and meaningless than any other in history.

The story

At the beginning we meet John Hilliard, a young subaltern, lying awake in a military hospital, recovering from a shrapnel wound received on the western front. For three weeks, he has been afraid to go to sleep, and is speaking to Dr Crawford, whom he has known since childhood. He then returns home briefly on sick leave back in England, but it is an uncomfortable experience and he finds it hard to adapt to the old way of life there. Neither his sister, to whom he had been very close, or their parents have any real idea of the horrific conditions he has been enduring in the trenches. In no time he is longing to get back to the western front. When he does, he finds that his batman and many others whom he knew have been killed. Moreover the group's Commanding Officer, Colonel Garrett, has aged greatly under the stress of war, and has taken to drinking heavily.

Hilliard now finds himself sharing a room with a new officer, David Barton, as they await a call back to the front. The inexperienced Barton has had comparatively little experience of the war, and has never yet seen a dead body. When he and Hilliard see the wreckage of a German plane crash and the men who were killed as a result, he is naturally very shocked. Gradually his letters home to his own family convey how he is becoming hardened by everything at the battlefront, the misery and suffering he sees all around him. He complains that they are drones, not fighting men.

As the officers arrive at their billets, they learn that a new recruit, Harris, is virtually paralysed with terror and refuses to come out from the cellar. They talk him out of his fears and persuade him to come outside. Within minutes a shell falls on the billets and Harris is killed at once. The officers left behind are torn between guilt at inadvertently sending him to his death while arguing that he is fortunate in that he has been spared life in the trenches, possibly leading to more mental agony and a slow lingering end.

The book is largely concerned with human relationships, and beyond this, little happens. From one point of view, maybe it falls a little flat in that there are no really cataclysmic events beyond what we might call the sordid fog of the war itself. However there is no shortage of atmosphere. When the men go to Feuvry, they find there is barely a building left intact in the town after it had been shelled and occupied by the Germans soon after the outbreak of war. All that remains are piles of rubble and holes in the ground, fragments of broken childrens toys and furniture, pieces of chairs sticking out from the debris, rusted spring coils from sofas all sad reminders of an apparently once secure and peaceful existence brutally shattered.

As for the rest of the story between Hilliard and Barton, is it simply the tale of a friendship forged in times of great adversity, or is it any more than that? The author leaves a certain amount to the imagination. There is an interesting underlying theme in the contrast between Hilliards formal, rather chilly family and Bartons much closer siblings. The former evidently has an emotional vacuum which cries out to be filled.

Finally

Id recommend this book with reservations. For me it was a little hard to get into, before I became acquainted with the characters. Ultimately it is quite a moving and powerful if somewhat difficult story, certainly a penetrating one in its analysis of relationships and feelings of guilt at sending men to their deaths, boredom, apprehension, and fear.


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Comments about this review »

LadyValkyrie 23.10.2011 14:12

Hmm, one I'd like to read just to see what I think of it.

Revo9 01.08.2011 12:50

Nice review, seems an interesting book.

jonathanb 21.07.2011 09:27

Not exactly an uplifitng read by the sound of it, but a valuable reminder of how horrific life (and death) was in the trenches.

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Product Information

Manufacturer's product description

John Hilliard, a young subaltern returning to the Western Front after a brief period of sick leave back in England ...

Product details

EAN 9780140036954
Type Fiction, Poetry
Genre Historical Fiction

Ciao

Listed on Ciao since 09/06/2009

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Strange Meeting - Susan Hill - review by Schmutzie

Quote-start The Pity of War Quote-start

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Review Ratings

This review of Strange Meeting - Susan Hill has been rated:

"exceptional" by (7%):

  1. Jake_Speed
  2. pennywa
  3. Alyson29

and 3 other members

"very helpful" by (91%):

  1. cornishchic
  2. Wee_Jackie_163
  3. ryeb

and 71 other members

"helpful" by (1%):

  1. Brooke3

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

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