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by Gabriel Chevalier

FEAR was written specifically to refute the claim that war is edifying, purifying and redemptive. "We have all seen the repercussions of such twaddle" writes Gabriel Chevallier: "profiteers, arms dealers, the black market, denunciations, betrayals, firing squads, torture; as well as famine, tuberculosis, typhus, terror, sadism. And heroism, I agree. But the small, exceptional amount of heroism does not make up for the immensity of evil. Besides, few people are cut out for true heroism. Let those of us who came back have the honesty to admit it."

As a squaddie for the whole of the Great War, he was highly qualified to write this book, written as it was in opposition to all war, and in particular to the First World War and in the hope of helping to prevent WWII. Originally published in 1930, it had the misfortune to run into the second one, and in 1939 its author and publisher agreed freely and mutually to suspend sales. Written as a warning to the world against embarking upon WWII, it had come too late. It was published at great risk in the atmosphere prevalent around the time of the wars: since then "some proud pens have avowed that shameful little word, fear."

The young Dartemont, the fictional narrator of this story, is typical of his time and his age. An aspiring intellectual, obliquely out of character with his elders, distrustful of authority and the accepted mores, he nevertheless joins up at the beginning of the war because it was expected of him, and because he didn't want to be left at home, a nonentity, missing the action, as it were. "Men are sheep," he says, " this fact makes armies and war posssible."

The narrative spans the five years of the war. It is quite simply a more or less day to day account of the terrible experiences of twenty million young men who were "led to the slaughterhouses to the sound of music."

Gabriel Chevallier (1895 - 1969) was a French novelist widely known as the author of CLOCHEMERLE, written in 1934., Translated into twenty-six languages, it sold several million copies. He fought and was wounded in the Great War, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur.

FEAR is an anti-war classic, simply told but with some understandable bitterness and satire. "Candlelight reveals tense, hardened faces, reflecting the anger that is a reaction to weakness." Even to the last day of the war the horror continued: "Outside...whistles and screams of the bombardment we have started...into the colourless chill of dawn...We are all shivering, our faces green, mouths thick with that foul smell that bad awakenings belch up."

There is no love interest in the book: even the nurses at the hospital after he is wounded are unavailable. For squaddies, with little prospect of a happily married future and no money for anything else, there is not much hope of romance. But the girl who took him home to her bed for for just one happy afternoon lives forever in gratitude between the pages of his book.

Paula McMaster

Published by Serpents Tail, 320pp.


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