RogerBW's Blog

Private Angelo, Eric Linklater 11 June 2014

In a tale that begins with the Italian armistice of 1943, the reluctant soldier Angelo bounces around war-torn Italy, serially drafted into one army after another. He is a very poor soldier. If only he had the dono di coraggio.

Linklater began writing this novel in Rome in 1944, and one suspects that much of it is drawn from either his own experience or stories from the front lines. I have previously read his The Wind on the Moon, written for children, and some of the same whimsy is here: of course Angelo will be helplessly carried away aboard an ox. Of course his patron the Count will be declared dead after his execution is bungled, and thus dispossessed of his house in Rome. Of course Angelo, while fleeing from the German Army and looking for a place to hide, will end up being adopted by some chaps from the LRDG or a similarly macho outfit.

But this is effectively contrasted with some very dark moments, not just involving people's deaths in the course of the war but showing the utterly wanton destruction that goes along with it. From the Germans, in victory or in defeat, one might expect it: from the Allies, rather less so, but their bombs dropped on Angelo's home village do rather more damage than the Germans had managed before pulling out of it that morning. "I hope you will not liberate us out of existence."

The story is largely a picaresque series of incidents rather than a deliberate progression, but (largely by accident) Angelo does end the book with a wife, a household, and some hope for the future. Other people get the fates that, even if they don't deserve them, they did more or less ask for.

The book's vague on details of date and location, but this feels appropriate: the season is more important than the year, at least while the fighting is still going on and Angelo is marching through whatever the weather can throw at him.

A strange book, but one I'm very glad to have read.

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