Another Beryl Bainbridge that was nominated for the Booker Prize. I wonder if she ever really wanted to win. This novel is told through a series of vignettes that cover broad swathes in scope, but skip around in time and place along a journey to the Near East. “Master Georgie” and his adopted sister are leaving for the Crimea to serve as doctor and nurse for the British cause.
This is a small novel that pretends to be a large novel and in a lot of ways this works out. I will be reviewing a truly epic story before the end of the day, and this covers the same wide scope, but with a much more narrow focus. We jump around, using the plates of an anatomy book to guide us while we discover the horrors of war.
As an American, I have to say that the Crimean War is a bit mysterious. We didn’t fight in it (we were busy trying not to fight our own little civil war) and while figures like Florence Nightengale is truly famous, she’s almost removed from historical fact into the place of mythology. So I looked it up.
It seems like an absolutely nightmare of a war. Russia versus England/the Ottomon Empire/Sardinia, where there were something like 700,000 deaths, but battle death being only about 20% of those total numbers. Most died of horrifying battlefield diseases and injuries. The novel discusses the frustrations doctors felt at losing men to disease in a dry and otherwise scenic battlefield. The novel works in a lot of ways, but I oddly wanted a lot more book here.