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The Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale

The Harrowing (edition 2009)

by Robert Dinsdale

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359321,274 (2.56)11
Title:The Harrowing
Authors:Robert Dinsdale
Info:Faber and Faber (2009), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Gave up, books I have read
Tags:early reviewer, proof copy, abandoned, WWI, out: BM, brothers, june, 2009

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The Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale



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I'm not sure if it's me or the book, but I'm nearly halfway through and finding the characters implausible and the timeline extremely murky. The implausibility of the characters wouldn't bother me too much because I think the book is meant to be a sort of fable, with the main two characters in particular representing good and evil. But hardly anything anyone does makes sense, other than to advance the story.

The timeline problems may be due to my ignorance about how things worked during World War I or perhaps my inattentiveness to detail as I read, but it seems like the author should keep people's ignorance in mind, and once I got confused I tried to work out the timeline and couldn't make any sense of it. From what I can tell, in the space of three weeks, we have a character who attacks his brother, runs away, is found, given false enlistment papers to sign, is sent to a regiment, arrives at the front, and sends letters home. Umm...

Later, there's discussion of what was in some orders that the author went to some pains to show that the main character wasn't going to read, but later it's assumed that he did--or something. Sometimes the prose gets in its own way, becoming unnecessarily and annoyingly opaque,

The author puts a lot of emphasis in the emotional arc of the story and the metaphorical "harrowing of hell," and these ideas have a lot of potential, but some of the basic building blocks of plot and characterization are left behind.
  teresakayep | Dec 1, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
First, of all, I didn't finish the book so this cannot be considered a true review, just an exploration of why the book did not work for me.

I was really looking forward to this novel, being both familiar with the Leeds area and an avid reader of war literature. The premise is interesting but unfortunately the book simply takes too long to get the plot moving. This may have been bearable if the writing had had sufficient beauty or interest, but I found the prose rather self-consciously 'literary'. It distanced me from the situation and the characters to the extent that what should have been a gripping, taut narrative failed to capture my emotions at all.
  Lind | Oct 25, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a well crafted debut novel from Robert Dinsdale. Some wonderful sentences and fine metaphors. 'The questions were like wolves baying a the moat of some prehistoic fortress', although one wonders were there 'prehistoric' fortresses? And although I love metaphor, I did feel in the first third of the novel it was perhaps over weighted by it a little.

The story is primarily that of two brothers, William and Samuel, the older of whom (William), without intending to, overshadows the younger. Set against the backdrop of the trenches during World War I. I didn't feel that this novel had anything new to add to the volume of work both fact and fiction with this setting, but it was handled deftly.

I did feel it could have done without the over used imagery though of the Christmas football much between enemies.

Flaws aside, I shall definitely be watching this author to see what he does next. ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Aug 5, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm afraid to say that this book has the right title but for all the wrong reasons - it is a very harrowing read, mainly due to it's terribly poor prose style. Hated it, sorry. ( )
  hannahmck | Jul 25, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I always feel a little mean being rude about books I haven't paid for but it is possible that someone may read this before buying it and so honesty does seem to be the best policy.

I am always wary of books that deal with the world wars, especially so with each generation removed from the fighting. Dinsdale, in his late twenties, was born over sixty years after the end of the first world war. I wondered what he would have to say. If the topic is a cliche then the approach must be novel.

It is not. The story and the writing style are stilted. It is possible to approach the first world war still in fiction as Adam Thorpe's masterful 1921 showed. Thorpe set his novel in the aftermath of the war and dealt with so much more than the conflict. Dinsdale uses the war as a literary safety net, using it's inbuilt tragedy to back up his poor ideas.

It is also written in a particularly way that reeks of importance. One gets the impression that Dinsdale has written the book for someone else, as a way of remembering or honouring someone. Perhaps his aim was to remember and honour all the dead but despite what the Daily Mail may say I don't really think that Britain suffers from forgetting our war dead. In reality we are more guilty of remembering the soldiers but not what they fought for. Anyway if the universal tragedy was what he aimed for he failed in all respects.

All that being said, I would be interested to see where Dinsdale goes next. Is this a book he felt obliged to write and will he now write something for himself? Or will he, perhaps more likely, commit himself to genre fiction. ( )
  benjaminjudge | Jul 24, 2009 |
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January, 1916, and the rooftops of Leeds creak with the weight of the winter's snows. William Redmond, soon to join the Chapeltown Rifles, wanders with his younger brother Samuel through the old haunts of their childhood - and, there, at the top of the Moor across which they are forbidden to walk, Samuel, for too long trapped in his brother's shadow, stoves William's head in with a stone. When William wakes, it is a different world through which he walks. His brother has vanished... when William discovers that Samuel has been sent to the war in his stead as punishment for what he did upon the Moor, he resolves to go out there and bring him back. This will not be revenge; this will be forgiveness. And so, with the fresh wound of Samuel's attack still screaming at the back of his head, William ventures into the hell of Flanders - a mire of death and disease and deserters - to bring back alive the brother who wanted him dead.… (more)

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