How many miles to Babylon? by

19 January 2011

Setting: , ,
Rated :

ISBN: 9780141046969 ; Quotes

Because I am an officer and a gentleman they have given me my notebooks, pen, ink and paper.

Growing up Alec has always been isolated. His parents despise one another, he is one of their battlegrounds, and his mother refuses to send him to school. Instead he has tutors and lessons at home. But no friends, for he is one of the Anglo-Irish at a time when Home Rule was everywhere. But through his love of riding and horses he meets a local boy, Jerry. As they grow older however the barriers between them grow more evident. Jerry understands this more than Alec, but nevertheless they mostly remain friends until Alec’s mother forbids it. Jerry is working at this stage, and Alec is taking more of an interest in the running of the estate and, in some ways, bonding with his father. And then war comes.

Alex doesn’t really see any need to join up. But his mother thinks it would be a good idea. And in the end she gets her way. Alec meets up with Jerry and discovers that he too is signing up, although for more practical reasons, he needs the King’s Shilling.

how many miles to babylonThe book begins with Alec in a cell, and the book is his telling of how he ended up there. He recalls his childhood, and the relationship of lack thereof he has with his family. His only friend is Jerry.

It is a short book, and, in some ways it isn’t very realistic. Some of the dialogue is slightly over the top. But this works in this book, adding to the atmosphere and the story. And it is wonderfully written. Alec has no reason for going to war. He doesn’t believe in the war, or in fighting for what ever it is he is supposed to be fighting for. And he doesn’t know what is expected of him. He has never fitted in in society, and being an officer is no help to him. Especially when the major seems to take an immediate dislike to him. He can’t figure out why things are happening the way they are, or why he is expected to behave in a certain way. He isn’t really sure how he is expected to behave either.

It is a story about him trying to make sense of the world, and about friendship. Possibly something more between him and Alec. From the beginning of the book you know that things will not end well, we start with Alec in a cell after all, and it is a tragedy. As was the whole war of course.

It is a beautifully written book, and this review is a bit all over the place, but still, if you have the time I would advise you to pick it up. It won’t take long, but it will stick with you.

Other reviews: A work in progress ; Culture Vulture

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8 Responses

  1. Ned Nightlight says:

    I once had to read this short novel with an Leaving Cert class and we enjoyed it. The storyline is easy to follow and it is a Big House novel with a difference in that there is a social accommodation between m’lud and one of the worker’s sons. Of course that and the fact that they meet up in the murderous trenches of Flanders is a bit of a tall tale. But ‘suspension of disbelief’ isn’t everything. I have read a couple of other novels by Jennifer Johnston and think she’s a decent read.

  2. Caroline says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this and see how it compares to Susan Hill’s Strange Meeting. I hope you will still join the discussion end of February when this one is due. Obviously to have an Anglo-Irish character gives this a totally different dimension. Both books seems to center on the friendship between two young men. I discovered Jennifer Johnston last year and she is a wonderful writer. I’m curious to find out if I will like this one more than Strange Meeting. There is something artificial in Hill’s book but I haven’t finished it, maybe there will be some development.
    Caroline´s last blog post ..Edith Wharton- Madame de Treymes 1907 Novella with Parisian Setting

  3. Kathleen says:

    Sounds like a short but thought provoking read.
    Kathleen´s last blog post ..Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

  4. Gowa says:

    this is a great book and also a bit sad , our class had to reading this book and compare it to ''inside i'm daning'' by damien o'donnell for the leaving cert english exam , which is another good film story as well.

  5. kasia says:

    I just discovered that you've provided a link to my review, thanks so much!
    kasia´s last blog post ..Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk- by David Sedaris