Gifts of War

This was my first foray into Chick Lit. My friend Daisy and I exchanged books, I lent her The Women's War by Alexandre Dumas, and she in turn lent me this book. Wow. I found myself questioning women as I read this! I mean, most women I've known have always banged on about how women are superior to men, but if all chick lit follows this formula then I don't know.

First things first, this is a well written book, and I did enjoy it. But it's so tiring. I don't know whether it was this book in general or chick lit in general but it felt as if 10 novels had been squished into one. Events that would usually take a long time to build up to and explain (you know, things like drama and suspense) happen a mile a minute which made me question whether the people who typically read this have ADD. And the things that happen are just too incredible. I know it's fiction (and usually life is stranger than fiction) but most the time I like fiction to be somewhat believable. Even reading a James Bond novel, I could never be James Bond but when you read it you can imagine someone actually doing all that and going through all that. What our main character Hal has happen to him is just too much. Here is a brief recap.

Hal is an officer in WW1, serving on the front line. At the Christmas truce, he meets a German officer called Wilhelm who had gotten engaged to a lovely young English lady called Sam before the war. He asks Hal to give Sam a picture of him in his uniform, as he can't write what with being German and all. Hal takes the picture, and a little later is shot in the groin and invalided home, as well as rendered unable to have children. He goes to Stratford-upon-Avon to give Sam the picture, but has fallen in love with the picture and her when he sees her, so he signs up to a German speaking intelligence college in the area, which is run by a nasty bugger. He and Sam start to go out, he doesn't tell her about the picture and Hal then manages to get called up and promoted to Military Intelligence in London. Oh Sam also has a baby by the German which the German didn't know about. Hal asks Sam to move to London after 10 days of knowing her as he wants to provide for her and the baby, even though he knows she doesn't love him and she still loves Wilhelm. He then uncovers a German spy ring and gets promoted. Then he becomes a spy and goes to Switzerland on a mission, only to find the person he is looking for is none other than the nasty bugger from the college. He sends a girl to seduce the bugger to find out the information, only to find out afterwards that she is a hot lesbian, and turns down offers of a threesome twice. Meanwhile, he shoots the nasty bugger in the head. Comes back to London, the Prime Minister meets him and thinks he is great but he is almost prosecuted for treason due to one of Sam's sisters and her fiancé being a pair pf shits. But he is let off. Then his mother dies and 3 days later his sister is killed on the front line. The sister by the way had an affair with a married man whilst working as a nurse at the front and the guy told his wife, who committed suicide. The war then ends and they all go to Paris for the peace settlements, and he meets Wilhelm who saw them but figured the boy was Hal's. I'll go into the ending a little more in a minute.

So that's the basic plot. Not much going on there. One of the things I really disliked was the author's habit of using hindsight for what happened and working it into the speech of characters, when they would not have known at the time. This basically makes it seem really unnatural, as people would not be referencing things like "a peace conference to end all peace conferences". Having a basic understanding of the history of the time, this to me makes the author seem smug in his habit of having characters do this. I was also peeved when I read that they called the dog Einstein on account of how stupid he was. Not that I love Einstein but by the time the book was set, Einstein had written so many theories he was not regarded as an idiot.

Now the ending. It is apparent to me that the reason a "well-known and respected historian" used a nom de plume for this book rather than his or her own is that he/she constructed such a shit ending for the book they would have been embarrassed for their colleagues to see it. Now I was in the habit of bellowing "WHAT THE FUCK" at each incredible development anyway, but the ending had me wanting to set fire to the book. I felt cheated. Basically, whilst they are in Paris, Sam is cold and distracted. As she leaves to go back to England, she gives Hal his sister's journal. In it, Hal's sister Izzy mentions how Hal had met Wilhelm and promised to deliver the picture etc, and Hal realises that Sam had read this. So what does he do to make it up to her? He runs away to the two lesbians and gets killed in a firebomb 8 years later. This is just an incredibly retarded ending. Don't get me wrong, I love films like Japanese version of The Ring with the unhappy ending when it seems... natural almost. But this just seemed tacked on to make soppy women cry. I mean seriously, I just struggled through the most incredible set of events ever to befall a person (oh he was going to get knighted too) for that? WTF Mackenzie Ford. I don't know if it's a rule for chick lit to end with a stupid tragedy but really, fuck me.

If I was just rating this book on the written style, it would be a Francis Drake. You can tell it was written well because it has inspired me to write at length about it. But, and I realise I am not the target market for this, given how the story was mental and the ending drove me round the bend, this is getting Bloody Mary'd. The ending would actually be worth a Blackbeard rating, but that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the book. Avoid unless you like insanity at a constant pace and love to feel very let down by a rubbish ending.


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