A Review By: Amelia
World War One is one of my favourite research stomping grounds and I can never get enough of reading about it. I mean, it was The Great War–the war to end all wars–what’s not to enjoy there? Well... except all the death and violence and misery. In the sense of literature though, it’s a marvelous subject and it’s why I love Timothy Findley’s novel The Wars.
The Wars is about Robert Ross, a sensitive, strange nineteen-year-old Canadian boy from a well off family living in Toronto. In 1915 he joins the army and is yanked from his suburban surroundings and thrust into the nightmares of trench warfare.
Timothy Findley is a Canadian author who first invented the term/style of Southern Ontario Gothic, was an author heavily influenced by Jungian psychology. There are recurring themes of mental illness, gender, and sexuality in frequent rotation throughout his works and his characters often carry dark personal secrets, and were often conflicted (sometimes to the point of psychosis) by these burdens.
Robert Ross, the main character, is an exceptional character. He’s sensitive but his sensitivity comes out in bursts of temper. He’s strange but strange in a way that manifests as caring and empathetic. Ross doesn’t think much of himself but the people around him do: he changes lives, for better and worse and he’s an amazing character to observe through the course of the novel.
Aside from Robert, the locations of the novel are my favourite bit. The book starts off in Toronto and then moves to Europe to the trenches of France and the country sides of England. It’s always interesting to read about a place where you’ve been in a novel (I currently live in Toronto) and see the author’s take on it. And of course my morbid fascination with war– especially World War One–made the locations all the more fascinating. I love the bleakness of war torn Europe: the trenches, no man’s land, even the soggy British countryside when the officers are on leave. War is a forever interesting topic and Findley’s take on it will leave you wanting more.
The Wars is by no means a light read. It has a grim plot, grim characters, and grim themes from start to finish–not that that makes it any less enjoyable, just enjoyable in a grim way! There’s just something about what Robert goes through that’s so compelling to follow as a reader. He joins the army after the death of his sister hoping to replace that nightmare for the nightmare of war. He gets his wish and his life becomes nothing short of horrifying whether he’s killing enemy soldiers or having an affair with a rich English heiress. It’s bleak and heartbreaking but also enthralling and beautiful. Findley weaves his characters and themes impeccably together to create a unique story that you’d be hard pressed to find an equal to.
My final thoughts on The Wars are that it’s incredible. It shows a side of war that you don’t usually see: it’s not about politics, it’s not about stopping the war or winning it for the side of good, it’s about one man’s journey through it all and what that does to his mental state and the mental states of those around him. Read it. Read it now!