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How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer…
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How Many Miles to Babylon?

by Jennifer Johnston

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
This very short (+/-150 pages) but brilliant novel gives us two pictures: of Ireland shortly before and during WW I; and of life at the front, near Ypres, during the early stages of that war.
Alec and Jerry form that classic friendship of the upper-middle-class and the workin-class boy. They enjoy themselves, horses, and the delights of a rural upbringing. In steps the heavy-handed Mother, the friendship is driven underground, and things go on.
Alec’s mother encourages him to enlist (her motives are murky). He doesn’t want to, and doesn’t have to, Things in Ireland being a little troublesome. Alex goes out into the night, meets Jerry, discovers that he’s going to the war as well, and they proceed to get uproariously drunk.
Soon thereafter they’re at the front, in the same unit, but separated again by class. Their experiences, brief as they are, have profound effects on their lives.
Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Author Johnston manages to create a searing story of friendship, love, and politics all in one go. This is a amazing read; do please try it. I guarantee that you won’t regret it. ( )
  bohemima | Sep 8, 2018 |
A brilliant, haunting and heartbreaking story that does a great commentary on the senselessness of class and the brutality of war. It hammers home the importance of the two best equalisers in the world: love and death.

Longer discussion here: https://youtu.be/sq1GMERTVCI ( )
  bastardreading | Oct 12, 2016 |
I first heard about this story because the actor, Andrew Scott, was set to read it for the BBC on their "Book at Bedtime" series. (Info is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rqnw1) I listened to him read an abridged version and it was incredibly haunting. I just had to know *what* had been left out.

This story still haunts me. It's a very simple tale, and quite short as well. But it's incredibly poignant and sad. It's a tale of wasted lives, loyalty, misplaced priorities (or perhaps that was merely a sign of the times?)

If you have a chance I would recommend this book. It's not a difficult read like many "deep" thinking type novels are. This book is fairly straightforward.

The only thing that wasn't told right out in the story was whether the "teller" of the story was in love with his friend or whether he was only a friend. I wasn't quite clear on that. But either way, his loyalty (and the stupidity of the higher-ups) really affected me, and still does. ( )
  Clare_M | May 25, 2014 |
This is one of those books that I can see is good, and why, but I don't particularly like it. It just didn't strike a chord for me — Alec's relationships with his parents dominated the narrative for me, rather than the relationship with Jerry; this clearly was not what the author intended, is not where the "delicacy and power" that Siria mentioned resides, and meant that I was paying attention to literally the wrong story.

Jerry just didn't catch my gaze as a reader. I honestly would have missed a goodly portion of the erotic charge between Alec and Jerry if I hadn't been looking for it, having been told about it beforehand (thanks, goodreads!).

::sigh:: I wanted to love this. I wanted to request this for Yuletide.

One of these days, I'll have to go back to it. ( )
  cricketbats | Apr 18, 2013 |
With a title referencing a traditional nursery-rhyme this novel retraces some familiar ground. How Many Miles to Babylon presents issues of friendship, family, class and war. What makes the novel worthwhile is the fine writing style of the author. Both the description of the desolation of Ireland as seen from the eyes of the impressionable youths and the experience on the fields of Flanders as it ends their innocence is well told.

The story begins, however, with the complex tale of a friendship between two boys in Ireland prior to and during World War I. Alec, the son of Anglo-Irish parents grows up lonely and friendless on his parents' estate in Wicklow during the early years of the 20th century. His parents have a difficult relationship and it is stated that "their only meeting place was the child." He meets a local boy, Jerry, who shares his passion for horses. Alec's mother, who believes strongly in the class system of early twentieth century Ireland, discovers the friendship and forbids him to spend any more time with Jerry. Their friendship is one that transcends their differences in class and character.

I found the psychology of the family triangle of Alec, his over-bearing mother and his deferential father to be the most interesting aspect of this slight novel. Their friendship is continued in private until the outbreak of the First World War. Jerry signs up as his father is already in the British Army and the King's Shilling would be of great benefit to his mother. Alec feels no compulsion to sign up until his mother tells Alec that his father Fredrick is not his biological father and in that moment he is so frustrated with his mother he impulsively signs up. In France the two friends are stationed together, but now divided by rank as well as class. They are commanded by Major Glendinning, a ruthless officer who shares Alec's mother's belief in the class system and divisions between rank, demanding that there be 'no flaw in the machinery'. When Jerry learns that his father is missing, he leaves to find out what happened to his father leading to a tragic ending.

While the end of the story is apparent from the opening pages, the complex and lyrical style of the author held my interest and kept me reading to discover the story behind the sad beginning. Another view of the tragic nature of the Great War, this short novel resonates with better and more substantial fictions and I would recommend readers turn, or return, to Erich Maria Remarque's magnificent All Quiet on the Western Front for the seminal version of this tragic turning point in World history. ( )
  jwhenderson | Dec 17, 2010 |
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Because I am an officer and a gentleman they have given me my notebooks, pen, ink and paper. So i write and wait. I am committed to no cause, I love no living person.
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Alec and Jerry shouldn't have been friends - Alec's life was one of privilege, while Jerry's was one of toil. But their loves of horses brought them together. When war breaks out in 1914, both Jerry and Alec sign up. They find themselves back together, but now as officer and enlisted man.… (more)

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