Some authors seem to have the inside word on particular things, whether it be a place, feelings or a scene. They can cut to the heart of a matter or find the perfect words to describe something. When I read a story filled with intimate detail (I don’t mean the sexy-time kind…), I assume that the author’s own experiences have informed the work. That makes perfect sense when talking contemporary literature – I, for example, could probably write something that would resonate with a girl growing up in the eighties who was obsessed with Culture Club, swimming, Princess Diana and was Team Jessica*. So how does Geraldine Brooks do it? She’s an author from Western Australia, yet is completely and thoroughly in the heart and mind of a Union Army officer during the American Civil War.
I’d forgotten just how good Brooks is until I read March.
Brooks draws her character, known only as March, from Louisa May Alcott’s classic, Little Women. March is the absent father in Little Women, and the story of his year away from his family, is confronting and in many parts, horrifying. Most interestingly, March’s experience of war and how those experiences change his beliefs and values are as relevant today as they were during the American Civil War.
Most of the story is narrated by March, save for a handful of chapters told by his wife, known as Marmee. This, from Marmee, about war –
“I am not alone in this. I only let him do to me what men have ever done to women: march off to empty glory and hollow acclaim and leave us behind to pick up the pieces. The broken cities, the burned barns, the innocent injured beasts, the ruined bodies of the boys we bore and the men we lay with. The waste of it. I sit here, and I look at him, and it is as if a hundred women sit beside me: the revolutionary farm wife, the English peasant woman, the Spartan mother – ‘Come back with your shield or on it,’ she cried, because that was what she was expected to cry. And then she leaned across the broken body of her son and the words turned to dust in her throat.”
Having read Little Women is not a prerequisite (who hasn’t read Little Women?!) although it would enhance the experience. Either way, make time for Brooks’s notes at the end of the book – the detail around Little Women and the family of Louisa May Alcott is fascinating.
* A very narrow readership…
I was just saying the other day how this has been on my TBR pile for ages – you’ve made me even more determined to read this very soon!
It had been in my TBR pile for ages as well (I missed it when my book group read it). I know very little about the US civil war, so this story was really interesting – well worth the read.
This is now a must read for me. I loved Little Women and have enjoyed Geraldine Brooks writing.
I think I need to read Little Women again now – I suspect I would notice different aspects of the story thanks to the new perspective this book provides.
I love Brooks, People of the Book is my favourite of hers so far. I’ve stayed away from this one though, as I love Little Women and worry about my view of it being changed, if that makes sense? This review makes me want to try it though…
Makes total sense but fear not! Her research is thorough (you could even BEGIN by reading the notes at the end, just to set your mind at ease).
I think my favourite from Brooks is Year of Wonders but March gives it a nudge. Still have to read Caleb’s Crossing.
I’m glad to read someone who loved March as much as I did.
I struggled with it initially as I was somehow expecting it to be just like Little Women…and of course it’s not.
March is an adult story with all the complexity & ambiguity that that implies…and Brooks handles it perfectly.
Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 Wrap-up | booksaremyfavouriteandbest