Children’s book review tour! Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

“In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”  ― Wilfred Owen

Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier – Barroux

51QTsd1WFBL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There was never any question of including this book on my tour list. Before I had even received the book I knew that I loved it. Line of Fire: Diary of an Unknown Soldier is exactly what the title implies; the diary of an unknown soldier.

One winter’s morning, Barroux was walking down the streets of Paris when he passed a house which was being emptied of rubbish; piles of old belongings, wrappers and refuse had been placed in the street. ‘We are emptying the basement. Help yourself if you like’ he was told by one of the people ferrying rubbish onto the street. It was at this point that Barroux picked up an ageing yellow diary from amongst the rubbish. A diary which belonged to an unknown soldier serving during world war one. Barroux took the diary and from it created Line of Fire, a graphic novel depicting the words written by an unknown French soldier…may his words never be forgotten.

This book was such a find! I’m over the moon to have discovered it, read it, and to have a copy of my own.

The illustration style fits so perfectly with the subject; you can almost imagine the soldier himself drawing them. They are simple, almost childish, yet graphic, as though they have been scratched with a piece of charcoal salvaged from the embers of long extinguished fire. They remind me, in some ways, of images I have seen drawn by soldiers on the front line. Although the sketches undoubtedly carry Barroux’s distinctive style, there is much in the way of reality present in the scenes. I am reminded of the images in A Soldiers Sketches Under Fire by Harold Harvey – real images sketched by a soldier on the front line.


It feels strange to review the words of a man when I know nothing about him. Although Barroux is listed as the author of the book, the words belong to the Unknown Soldier. They are exactly as they were found, although in the case of my copy they have been translated into English from their native French. They are powerful words, and although it does not take long to read the book, the effect of the story is far reaching and potent.

The Unknown Soldier speaks of the things which are sure to have plagued any man on the front line of WWI. His fatigue, it is crippling, and he feels dead on his feet – ‘My feet are bleeding, My legs can no longer hold me up. This isn’t a man who’s walking but a sheep following the flock.’ He is never able to rest for more than a few hours before being aroused, often in the dead of night, to move on to the next place. He takes to sleeping on piles of straw, where they are available, next to his companion Fernand, sleeping close together for warmth, and, I expect, comfort.

Our Soldier worries about those he has left behind. He is so worried, plagued by worry each time he receives no word from home. It is moving to see the worry from the other side. It is well known that those that are left behind will worry about their father, brother, son, or husband who has gone away to fight, but the soldiers words show that the worry tortures him equally. ‘The women weep. It’s up to us to show that we’re stronger than they are and convince them that we will return.’ When he does hear news his release is evident, as though he has let out a deep breath of relief; ‘at last I receive some postcards from my dear wife’.

The horror of war is also painted on the pages of the diary, not so much in Barroux’s drawings, but in the soldier’s words. The words are not complicated or flowing, but to the point, and powerful – you can smell the gunpowder, hear the crackle of artillery fire, and see the horrors that the Unknown Soldier scrawls within the pages of his diary. ‘This is where a powerful shell landed on a platoon of the 6th company, which was partially destroyed’ he writes, having seen the remains of a soldiers leg hanging from a tree branch.


The Unknown Soldier seems to have made a narrow escape from the horrors of war, although no one knows now anything about the man who kept this diary.  He writes of being injured while forced to advance under the eruption of overhead shrapnel, and of the bravery of a fellow soldier, without whom he may not have survived. ‘While he’s bandaging my arm, the shells continue to rain down on us. I shall never forget the devotion of this soldier who didn’t think twice about risking his life, staying close in order to tend to me.’

Once out of the line of fire, he is faced with a lengthy journey to a hospital, all the while in indescribable pain, and with a raging fever which forbids him rest and sustenance. It is once he arrives at hospital, and his fever begins to subside that he is faced with another, unimagined issue – boredom. For a week we hear nothing of the Unknown Soldier, and then, he writes of his boredom, the slowness of the days, his heavy heart, and his feeling that life is carrying on all the same outside of the hospital walls.

‘Sometimes I’m sorry I didn’t stay in the line of fire’ – and with these words the Unknown Soldier’s story ends.

Line of Fire has left me feeling such a strange mix of emotions, with so many questions running through my mind. The power of the Unknown Soldier’s last words are incredible, and only made more so by the fact that he, undoubtedly, never expected anyone to read his diary. Who was this man? And why did he stop writing? Questions I will find myself often asking, and will never know the answer to.

I would recommend this book to almost anyone. Even if you don’t feel drawn to Barroux’s illustrations the power of the Unknown Soldier’s words will not fail to captivate. History students, WWI fanatics, children and adults alike, this is a lesson in history, and an important one at that. Read it and pass on the recommendation.

“Nothing saddens me more than seeing how quickly the dog grows used to its leash.” ― Marty Rubin

Human qualities

Lifeform Three – Roz Morris

Lifeform Three

Roz Morris lives in London with her husband in a house straight out of a booklover’s dream. Each wall is decorated with bookshelves, with each room serving as a different section of her personal library. Morris is a self-proclaimed ‘sucker’ for beautiful language and stories, so it seems fitting that her study serves as the fiction room of the house, with walls showcasing the most important novels in her life. Morris has worked as a journalist, ghost-writer, editor and writing coach. In the past she has published books on novel writing, including ‘Nail Your Novel’, which has been defined as a writing mentor and buddy in book form. After emerging from the shadows of ghost-writing, Morris published her first novel My Memories of a Future Life in 2011. Her second ‘nailed’ novel, Lifeform Three, was released in December 2013.

How would one define Lifeform Three? Scifi? Dystopia? Fantasy? Or perhaps, all of the above? In her second novel Morris introduces the reader to a future world, very different from the normalities and comforts of today. Paftoo is a ‘bod’, a creature made to serve the ‘intrepid guests’ of the last remaining countryside estate of which he is groundsman, the once grand Harkaway Hall. At first glance Paftoo seems much like the other bods around him, the renew bods, the dispose bods, and many other bods besides, all built with one purpose, to serve. Look closer, however, and there is something about Paftoo which makes him different, something which sets him out from the rest of the group. He seems unable to contend himself with the life of servitude offered to bods. When Paftoo begins dreaming, of times past, nightly rides through the woods and mysterious messages, he begins an incredible journey. Paftoo nightly antics aid him on the path of rediscovery of his memories, his passions, and most of all, his beloved lifeform three.

The world Morris has created within the pages of Lifeform Three is an interesting one. The book is set, almost exclusively within the grounds of a crumbling manor house, the little that remains of a once grand estate, which now serves as a tiny spec of greenery in a vast concrete jungle. The estate now serve as little more than a theme park for the inhabitants of the desolate plains which exist outside. These ‘guests’ are so much more unresponsive than those we live amongst today. They speed around in cars which drive themselves, forever glued to the screens of their ‘pebbles’. This world, which favours efficiency over tradition and production over nature, and in which animals are categorised according to the order in which they were domesticated, is the result of intensive industrialisation and capitalism:

‘The sea levels rose. Once people had liked to live on the coast or by a river, but now the waves came and licked their homes away. The government built flood walls and the population retreated inland. They needed new cities, factories, farms and power stations. Places to live. Bypasses to drive there more directly. Between the roofs and roads there was no room for countryside.’

I love a dystopia – and I would call this a dystopia – which plays on very real current fears. Like the New York City presented in Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room, these kinds of worlds are all the more real, and terrifying, because there is a very real possibility such a world becoming a reality.

Now I would like to introduce you to our main character, Paftoo. Paftoo as you will already know is a bod, but he is different to the other bods though, and I think the first clue in this is in his name. The other bods are numbered, Pafonenine Pafseven, and so on, but he is Paftoo, not Paftwo. Does this suggest that he is different to the others? I like to think he is named this way because he is extra, not the second bod, but an additional bod.  His differences extend beyond the variation in his name, while during the day he picks up the rubbish left behind by intrepid guests, cleans up after the animals which roam the Lost Lands, he also thinks, and feels unsatisfied with his life:

‘To Pafnine and the rest, there is no future beyond the tally of scores at the end of each day. And then another day, numbingly the same.’

The bods are made to serve, and at the end of the day, when the sun sets and the intrepid guests go to wherever the intrepid guests go, the bods shut down. I found the idea of this quite disturbing, the thought of the robots just stopping, not sleeping or recharging, just staying where they are, open to the elements, is really quite sad. It seems much more pleasant to think of the grandmother in Ray Bradbury’s film Electric Grandma, who, at the end of the day plugs herself in to charge, sits down in her rocking chair and closes her eyes. This seems so much more compassionate to me. The bods are made to seem human, they are all different, with different haircuts and facial features, and yet they are not even given a place to be put away. And of course this is even worse when seen through the eyes of Paftoo, who himself does not shut down, but continues to roam the lost lands by night. The bods, standing around him in the darkness, or lying crumpled on the floor, wet and covered in leaves, is a horrible and depressing sight to imagine.

Paftoo does, he eventually discovers, have another reason for living other than serving the intrepid guests.  A desire he must keep hidden for fear of being forced into a ‘sharing’ with the other bods – a  ritual which promises to ‘make things better’ by deleting memories and rendering the bod a blank canvas, ready to question the meaning of life once again. When Paftoo beings to dream at first he is confused, but slowly, as he begins to uncover his lost memories, he realises what is missing from his ‘life’ – his lifeform three, Storm. The bond between Paftoo and Storm is unbreakable, so much so that the idea of being without him, even when he has only just discovered his existence, is enough to send him to the sharing suite:

‘Soon it will all be gone. He won’t have to worry about anything but the team and the chores.’

This brings me nicely onto my next point. What is it that makes us human? It is said that a robot is born to serve, and this is very much the case with Paftoo and the rest of the bods. But Paftoo has a decidedly human quality to him, his existence does not seem limited to a life of servitude, and he himself understands this:

‘If Paftoo’s cloud showed his true interests there would be only one; to look after Storm.’

The other bods do not have this self-awareness; they are not ‘interested’ in anything other than cleaning and achieving quotas. I’m reminded slightly of the house in Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. There is something deeply saddening about a robot made to serve, which knows nothing other than what it is programmed to do. The bods care nothing for the decaying mansions left behind, just as the house in There Will Come Soft Rains remains oblivious to the fact that the people he was made to care for have been turned into piles of ash. While Paftoo can see the world changing around him, he understands that might lose his memories and it terrifies him:

‘The sharing has ripped something out of him. It robbed him of the individuality that mattered. It took away his memories of storm. Instead it gave him the empty routine the others call a life.’

I could go on, I would love to go on, but I feel as though I have already said too much. If I have piqued your interest enough to read this far, you should really read the book. Needless to say I really enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it. I am a little obsessed with dystopian fiction, and for me Lifeform Three ticked all the boxes. I found Morris’ style incredibly captivating, and the story itself had me reading on at the end of every chapter.

I am incredibly grateful to Roz Morris for supplying me with a free review copy of her book, and thus introducing me to the captivating world of Lifeform Three.

‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.’ — Robert Frost

Found prose poetry.

I actually stumbled across this idea on a teaching forum as a suggested homework for English literature students, still I liked the idea and gave it a go. As with all my obscure poetry so far, it’s fairly simple, but I think gives you a little more opportunity for being yourself than some of my past ideas.

The model is as follows: choose a piece of prose fiction; select a passage from the text; identify important words, phrases and sentences; arrange these excerpts into a poem. I think you can be fairly unrestrained with this sort of method, you could try choosing a specific structure and molding the text, or using free verse.  It’s also fine to rearrange order, wording and phrases, do whatever sounds most appealing to you.

I opted to use free verse and selected the final paragraphs from both books.

Here are the results:


1984 — George Orwell

He gazed up. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

He gazed up.
What kind of
Cruel, stubborn smile
as hidden beneath the dark moustache?
He had learned.
Tears trickled down his nose.
Everything was all right,
He had won the struggle,
He loved Big Brother.


Frankenstein — Mary Shelley

“But soon,” he cried, with sad and solemn enthusiasm, “I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace; or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell.”

He sprung from the cabin-window, as he said this, upon the ice-raft which lay close to the vessel. He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.

Soon I shall die.
I will no longer feel
these burning miseries,
the torturing flames.
My light will fade,
My ashes swept into the wind.
I will sleep.
Borne away by the waves,
Lost in the darkness.

My latest find is possibly my favourite so far, I really liked the freedom of constructing a poem in this way permitted me. If you find yourself at a loose end one afternoon give it a go, I’d love to see other people’s results.

As always, any suggestions for future methods would be greatly appreciated 🙂

Is this a hearty welcome, or a Hardy welcome?

Blogging seems to be all the rage these days, so I’ve decided to jump on board the band wagon. After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about themselves? I’m not so vain as to think many people will be particularly interested in my chattering away about nothing though – I do think blogs are more interesting when they are about something, rather than everything. My ‘something’ will be the books I read. I like to read, but I am by no means a connoisseur of fine literature. I will blog about the books I feel like reading, rather than reading books purely for the sake of blogging about them, so I’m terribly sorry if my reviews are grossly behind the time and irrelevant. Furthermore I refuse to rate anything out of ten, the idea that all my thoughts and emotions relating to a book can be summed up in such a small scale is, frankly, ridiculous.

So on to the first book of many.

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

Jude The ObscureI will admit that I have never really given Hardy the time of day before now ― due to a very bad experience of far too many hours spent listening to the audio book of ‘Return of the Native’ read by Alan Rickman, thanks to the incompetence of my sixth form English literature teacher. A friend of mine recently read Jude and told me it was “the most depressing book ever” naturally I was intrigued so thought I would give Hardy a second chance – I’m glad I did, although I can’t really say I enjoyed reading it.

I have never come across a character in my reading quite as unlucky as Jude Fawley, and that is to put it lightly. Poor Jude has from a young age, dreamt of travelling to the nearby town of Christminster and pursuing the life on an academic, but Hardy places so many road blocks along the way that Jude’s journey seems doomed to fail. Hardy goes far beyond making Jude’s character merely unfortunate, gifting to him a life filled with little other than misery and pain.  The chronicle of Jude’s life seems to me so depressing that it becomes almost completely farcical. While I am fully aware that Jude’s life is one to be pitied, I find myself more inclined to have a laugh at his expense, as his life gets ever more ridiculous.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this book I will elaborate.  Jude has a very humble background, and was raised for the most part by his elderly Aunt, a bitter, cynical old lady, who tried in vain to convince Jude that the Fawley family are not meant for marriage.  Despite this Jude is quickly trapped by local girl Arabella, who tricks him into marriage, which seemingly makes Jude’s dreams of becoming a scholar a distant memory. However, when the marriage inevitably falls apart and Arabella leaves the country it seems almost possible that Jude may have a second chance at happiness. I was too easily fooled by this first part of the book, Hardy continually lays these traps, luring the reader into thinking that things could be ok for Jude after all.

Eventually Jude does find himself in Christminster and once again has high hopes of somehow securing a place in the colleges; however he is inevitably rejected by all the institutions, and somehow find the time to fall hopelessly in love with his cousin Susan Brideshead in the process, whom of course he cannot marry being already wed to another. In true Jude style, Arabella asks for a divorce, just in time for Sue to get married. When Sue finally decides she wants to be with Jude and asks to be released from her marriage it seems just a bit too good to be true.

Of course it really would be asking too much for Jude to have any sort of luck, and so he soon finds out he has a son from his first marriage. Refusing to let this dampen their spirits the couple decide to raise the child – known as ‘Little Father Time’- as their own. This inevitably leads to their being shunned by society for living together out of wedlock. Jude and Sue decide to leave the area completely, in order to avoid the gossip.

When Jude and Sue return to Christminster a few years later, after pretending to tie the knot, and having a further two children of their own they find things little improved and are continually turned away from lodgings. Noticing the tension in the air Little Father Time speaks with Sue and quickly gathers that his parents are suffering because they have children, he then throws a tantrum and promises to never forgive Sue upon finding out that there is another child on the way. The next morning Jude and Sue find all three children hanging dead in their bedroom, Little Father Time having killed both his younger siblings and then himself – leaving behind the note ‘because we were too menny’. The devastation of losing her children leads Sue to lose the baby she is carrying. Sue then leaves Jude, returning to her first husband, as she feels that the death of her children was a punishment for her having done wrong in her first marriage.

Alone and miserable Jude is somehow once again tricked into marrying Arabella. By this stages Jude’s health is declining rapidly, he soon becomes bed ridden and is of little interest to Arabella. When Jude inevitably dies, he is on his own, pleading for a glass of water. Once discovered by Arabella the death is temporarily covered up, so as to not inconvenience Arabella’s social plans. Jude’s funeral is a dismal event, of which Sue does not attend.

My thoughts upon finishing this book are mixed. I am satisfied that what started out as an incredibly depressing story did not somehow end up having a fantastical and unbelievable happy ending. However as I have said before the extent to which Hardy attempts to make the story one of woe does seem to go a bit too far. The idea that any one person could be quite as unlucky as Jude Fawley does make me laugh (Hardy ha ha), it seems so detached from reality.  I also found myself really disliking most of the characters, which I feel in some ways made the book more enjoyable. Sue is the most annoying creature I have ever experienced. Sue’s character has moments of such fantastic clarity and insight, expressing her thoughts so brilliantly, but for every one of these there are at least a dozen irritating sessions in which she is seen to cry, continually change her point of view and attitude, and ultimately behave like a complete swine to her husband Mr Phillotson –who is in turn annoyingly accepting and far too nice for his own good. Jude’s character is not only unlucky, but also so intolerably needy, and so incredibly weak willed (what sort of a man gets tricked into a marriage, twice?!). Despite being quite an unpleasant character, it seems to me that the only one of group with an ounce of strength in her is Arabella, she is manipulative and cruel, but ultimately she gets what she wants, and is the only person who ends up being anything close to happy.