Tuesday, May 10, 2011

From Here To Eternity - James Jones

 On the cover of my copy of this novel it states, 'The most famous novel of WW2'. Is it? Well there are many famous novels of that conflict but after reading From Here to Eternity I'm not convinced this is the most famous, and in my opinion far from the best.

 I have many issues with this novel and must almost be one of the few who aren't overly fussed on it. As a work of fiction it is highly regarded even without gathering any further fame from its famous cinematic adaptation, ( which is an adaptation in every sense of the word! ). The famous kiss in the surf scene? Pure nonsense as there is no such scene in the novel. As with so many film adaptations there are a raft of differences which I won't go into here as I've got enough bones to pick with the novel without including the movie.

 I found this a difficult and frustrating read as the grammar at times is absolutely appalling. To be sure Jones does put into words very well the way many people speak as some of his characters were un-educated hicks with little education, and hence sense of diction. But if you read any slave novel like Roots or Uncle Tom's Cabin the grammar and diction of the slaves is easier to read than Jones' soldiers are. Not only is it the way they speak but Jones himself is guilty of some sloppy grammar. Unfortunately I find some American authors can suffer this as they fall into poor sentence structure and use of words. I find it pure laziness, and can't believe I haven't read a review elsewhere that criticises Jones for it.

 I personally can't abide poor grammar and I found reading the novel extremely difficult going as I stumbled over Jones' mis-placed words and constant use of shortening words within sentences. Instead of using 'every' he used 'ever', ( ie, he went ever where that day, agggggghhhhhh! ). They weren't spelling mistakes either as it was quite common, and yet the sentence still worked in its own way. And try this one,  He didn't do nothing  , ahhhhhhhhh, how bad is that!! It makes my blood boil and my hair curl!! Very frustrating and difficult to read. It took me several weeks to read the first 100 hundred pages as this grammatical nightmare be-fuddled my poor mind. At first I couldn't put my finger on why I was having such difficulties. It wasn't until I picked it up in earnest several days ago and read several hundred pages more that I saw why. For all the praise this  novel has received for me personally it is poorly, if not straight out lazily written, and damn difficult to read because of it.

 So to me it is flawed as a piece of pure literature. Sure Jones has shown us how 'soljers' of little education spoke but his own grammar should have been better. I gritted my teeth though as I was determined to read this even though I really wasn't enjoying it. It was a grind as the novel is just over 800 pages and that is a lot when your enjoyment factor is pretty much zero.

 But if you can look past, or read around, the jarring grammar then there is a good story underneath. I liked how Jones described army life in an American unit based in Hawaii on the cusp of America's entry into the war. He goes through the workings and life of a small army unit describing the daily affairs. For all of it though I never felt it was 'army' enough! I just couldn't get any 'feel' from Jones' writing. He goes into 'The Treatment', the pulling of rank, the bureaucracy, the sadism of superiors, especially in the stockade etc, but still I have read better descriptions of army life and soldiering that I 'felt'. There was a general blandness to this which I couldn't define or put my finger on, which left me with a small voice at the back of my mind going, 'what is it?' Some of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's novels were better and more 'army' in feel.

 For me the best parts of the novel are Prewitt's time in the stockade and the last chapters detailing the attack on Pearl Harbour and the start of the war. The rest of the novel just didn't do anything for me. One thing that did jump out at me though was the 'whores' and the use of the word. When Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's he was absolutely savaged for writing such pornography and material of such bad taste. And yet Jones writes about the workings of brothels and prostitution much more descriptively than Capote did and no-one battered an eye-lid. Go figure. Capote was almost subliminal in Holly Golightly's activities compared to those of Lorene who we are in no way blinded as to her profession. And this was written in 1952!

 For such a famous and highly regarded novel I was disappointed in this. I honestly didn't enjoy it and am now hesitant to even think about reading The Thin Red Line and Whistle. I do admire the eight years he put into the writing of it, and his ability at entering the psyche of his characters for his readers, but I still don't like Jones' literary style. It just isn't to my taste at all. With my particular interest in this period of history I was again disappointed. It isn't a war novel per se even though there is a short description of Pearl Harbour as it is more about daily  life in the American army. To call it a war novel is a mis-nomer as it is more an army novel.

 Overall all I can say is I didn't really like From Here to Eternity. Taste is unique and individual to all and I'm sure there are others who didn't get into this novel. I can't, and won't say it is bad or rubbish because it does have some strong merits. But it is the poor grammar that I take away from this novel the most and have difficulty circumventing. I can't recommend it as such because I don't think it is an enjoyable read or an easy one. I like a challenging read such as Charles Dickens provides because he uses words and grammar correctly whereas James Jones is somewhat sloppy and the novel suffers for it.

 In short a grammatically frustrating read that leaves you unfulfilled, even though there are some strong points, and a good story lurking between the pages.....if  you can only grit your teeth through that grammar!! Just straight out difficult to read, and hence, truly un-enjoyable.

( If you want to see this novel without reading it then watch Stanley Kubrik's brilliant Full Metal Jacket. Sure it is Vietnam era but much of what Jones describes barracks wise is depicted in Metal Jacket. The movie adaptation is a very, very loose attempt and made more for audience taste rather than as a faithful adaptation. The romance is way over played. I also believe it was made into a mini-series in the 1980's which I haven't seen and may have followed the books essence far better ).

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