This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Naked And The Dead: Review

Author:Norman Mailer
The island of Anapopei lies somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Occupied by the Japanese, it is invaded by American soldiers on a pointless campaign of no discernible strategic value, who land on its almost undefended beach and then get mired in jungle warfare.

Run by officers who are more interested in their personal politics and jostling for advantage, the soldiers are left to win the battle on their own. They will win the battle because the Japanese garrison is isolated and cut off from all reinforcements, supplies, and ammunition, and the officers know this.

It makes little difference to the troops on the ground, though. They suffer on this victorious campaign just as much as they would if they were defeated, and they die just as dead.

The soldiers Mailer talks about are not nice men. He mostly follows the fortunes of a single fourteen man reconnaissance platoon, as well as a motley group of officers from Headquarters. Each soldier gets given a flashback (called "The Time Machine") to give a window to his past. Among them are Sergeant Croft, the psychopathic platoon leader; Gallagher, anti-Semitic Irishman; Goldstein, the Jew who is a misfit; and others. Then there is the divisional commander, General Cummings, his officers Dalleeson and Hearn, the latter one of the few relatively likable characters in the novel.

Mailer was himself a rifleman in a platoon in the war and he wrote realistically; it's difficult to believe that he was still only in his mid-twenties when this book was written. It's even more difficult to remember that when he published it, in 1948, the Second World War was still seen as a great big heroic victory and its soldiers as untarnished heroes.

So, such characters as Croft, who gets Hearn killed by deliberately feeding him false information, and casually murders prisoners of war, and Dalleeson, who schemes for war with Russia while still fighting this one, would have been catastrophically different from the usual depiction of men at war.

Mailer did have to make some compromises; the most famous one is the invented word "fug" instead of "fuck", since the publishers of the time wouldn't use it. There is a story that Mailer was later introduced to a woman (who it was varies in the retelling, but the most plausible version says it was Dorothy Parker) who said, "Oh yes, you're the young man who doesn't know how to spell fuck."

Ultimately, it's good book. It's a good book in spite of not having the courage to, unlike Joseph Heller's "Catch 22", take on the establishment no-holds-barred and show up the war for the sham that it is. This is why Mailer's novel gets four stars from me, not five.

A very good novel, "fug" and all, about a little more than war.

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