Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Tale of Two Books

In amongst my extended reading on holiday and the Pottermania of the recent several weekends ago (apologies, this post has been some time in the drafting), I have read a couple of interesting books with a couple of themes in common: they are both by bloggers, without being the usual re-tread of the blog: - Rachel North and Rogue Gunner; and they both deal with traumatic events, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and survivor guilt. (Ed notes - that is a "g" in "guilt". I know it looks like a "q" but it ain't! I suppose a "survivor quilt" is the sort of thing the Yanks put together as a community from time to time.)

So, the books:

"Out of the Tunnel" - describes Rachel's hideous experience with, and recovering from, firstly stranger rape and attempted murder, with the ensuing prosecution and court appearances, and, the very day an article about the rape was published, narrowly missing death during the 7th July London terrorist bombings.

This is an extremely well written book, especially for a first-time author. It helps that Rachel has a clear writing style (possibly a result of her previous career) and is a very sympathetic protagonist - strong-minded and rational, and a wholly innocent victim in both cases. Don't pick this book up hoping for an easy read - it really isn't a beach book, the subject matter is too serious - but it is an extremely worthwhile one. Me being a sentimental git, it does help that it turns out all right in the end: Rachel married her beau J earlier this year and, despite numerous other tribulations (here, thankfully over, and here, still ongoing, for example) is successfully back on track. An excellent book, all in all, read it yourself and make up your mind. I have to just hope that Rachel's life doesn't continue to give her sufficient grief to justify the sequel.

"Watching Men Burn" is a book of a completely different breed. The main reason this review is delayed is that I wanted to be as positive as possible about it, something I must admit, as you will see, that I found really hard. There are a number of cuts against it: it is one of the admittedly many military memoirs that take the view "all officers are bastards", which was hardly going to endear it to me and Tony is, as he readily admits not the most sympathetic character. It starts with a gritty description of life as a Junior Leader (now replaced by the Army Foundation College - interestingly with a Gunner CO at the moment). The bit I found most interesting (and I thought best written, but that may just be bias), covered Tony's experiences as a teenager Rapier operator in the Falklands War. The critical incident for him in this, as the title and cover show, was the bombing of RFA Sir Galahad, an incident that cost 48 lives. An equipment malfunction had prevented him from shooting down the lead attacking Skyhawk (having said that, the third plane's bombs also hit the Galahad, so even a fully functioning system would probably only reduced the loss of life.)

The last third of the book covers Tony's mental disintegration under PTSD, including a volunteer spell (still with the Army) in Northern Ireland, a descent into alcohol abuse, the catastrophic effect on his relationships, and his eventually failed battle with the MOD for proper treatment as a wounded veteran.

If you are a Falklands historian, this is a significant contribution to the eye-witness account. If you are in the military, this shows you, if you hadn't already seen it happen to your friends and colleagues, what can happen when it all goes horribly wrong. I didn't really like it, as you may have gathered, but your mileage may vary.



Rachel said...

Thank you very much indeed for the review. I will link it in my sidebar, and will write a post about PTSD with a link in as well later in the week when I have cleared my work ( have just read Aaron Debnam's book 'One Morning In July', about the police officer who developed PTSD after assisting the rescue operation on 7/7 on the Piccadilly train).

Unknown said...

`A classical liberal & modern libertarian`. I wonder why you didnt like my book?

Thanks for the review.

Surreptitious Evil said...


Please don't confuse "classical liberal" with "Liberal Democrat". See here.

I believe that, by and large, the best judge of what is good for people is that person and the best place for government is out of people's faces except for the minimum necessary, like law enforcement and maintaining the military. And cleaning up after their screw-ups, as they have clearly and consistently failed to do with yourself and other non-obvious military casualties (PTSD, the various post-Granby maladies, etc.)

Anonymous said...


I think your appraisal of 'Watching Men Burn' is very accurate. I also found the anti officer stance coupled with his dig at compatriots etc as rather unpalateable.

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