Review Blog

May 21 2019

Bodies of men by Nigel Featherstone

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Hachette, 2019. ISBN: 9780733640704.
(Age: Adult) Recommended. Set in Egypt 1941, the story opens with a scene in the desert, where a young captain, William Marsh, whilst moving forward to help a Medical Officer reach a wounded lorry driver, hesitates to fire on the enemy before him - someone else rises up and fires the shots, but in that moment of hesitation the MO is severely injured. The man that makes the decisive shots is James Kelly, someone who is familiar to William . . . from long ago, at home.
That moment in the desert haunts William - it is his fault the MO is wounded. And from then on, he is driven to ensure that his men are in the peak state of preparedness. Because of his family connections, he is stationed in a relatively safe location where he has time to devote to training his men, and strict and demanding training becomes ongoing, every day. A note from his superior informs him that the other soldier, James Kelly, has gone AWOL, and in that moment William realises how he knows him.
The story gradually reveals how the two men's lives have crossed, from a naive boyhood friendship to enlistment in a war in a foreign land; and then how their paths continue to blend together as their love for each other grows. It is a love story told beautifully.
Featherstone brings alive the city of Alexandria, amid the desert landscape, as well as the complexities of people from different nationalities and backgrounds, thrown together, escaping from the war in Europe, people with secrets. It is an intriguing story that draws you in; we empathise with the young men, in dread of secret organisations and the brutal Provost Corps, trying to find a way to be together.
Bodies of men is a war romance of a different kind. Written whilst on a residency with the Australian Defence Force Academy, Featherstone says he became 'intrigued by the idea of researching different expressions of masculinity under extreme military pressure'. The result is a beautifully written and tender love story. For more about his inspiration for the book, see the author's comments online.
Helen Eddy

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