Review: The First of July by Elizabeth Speller First of July by Elizabeth Speller (Pegasus Books, November 14, 352 pages)


Rachel was not impressed.

I dove into this World War I novel with no expectations, probably because I hadn't heard much about it- and it doesn't officially come out until next week. I hadn't ever read anything by Elizabeth Speller, and the only WWI novel I'd read before was Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. So into the novel I dove.

Basically, this novel is about four soldiers (two British, two French) and their brief but important interactions before, during, and immediately after the devastating Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. Their very different backgrounds, experiences, ages, and passions make it hmmm-worthy when they randomly encounter each other on the streets of Paris or on the battlefield.

For reasons that are not at all clear, only one of the characters speaks in the first-person in the chapters dedicated to him; the others are all third-person narratives funneled through each focal character's mind. Whatever.

It takes about 200 pages before you actually start to care about the characters, since the development is slllloooowwwww and often uninteresting. For example, I wasn't made to feel Jean-Baptiste's pain when he caught his mother and the doctor he had befriended know...a somewhat delicate position...Maybe that's because we see the doctor and the mother as little more than paper dolls, at least through the eyes of Jean-Baptiste. When he runs off to Paris in a rage because his widowed mother has jumped into bed with a dashing and promiscuous man, well, we shrug the shoulders.

The war scenes are predictably bloody and horrifying...predictably. It was like watching a documentary of the war and wanting to turn your eyes away at the particularly gruesome parts. So...expected but nothing out of the ordinary.

Well, I'm off to read another WWI novel- this time by Willa Cather, called One of Ours (1922). Cather ROCKS, of course, so I'm sure I'll be more positive about her novel. Speller's though? That's a big ol' HO HUM.

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