Written in the first person, this an intensely moving and introspective narrative about a WWI chaplain. Leo hails from Singleton in Sussex. The village curate, and the son of an innkeeper and a mother who blames him for what? He suspects for being alive, in place of his dead brother. He escapes to the army following an incident with his Vicar and good friend, Stephen Forrester, the man he credits with his education and entry into the church.
These are the matters from home which lie beneath the surface of Leo’s work and remain unresolved. He is reluctant to face them until forced. This is a novel about growth, about finding oneself amidst the horrors of war, about the importance of comradeship, service and sacrifice. It’s about acting selflessly for the good of others and finally finding the true meaning of one’s own faith.
This is the kind of novel which lives with you, makes you question. The officers in Leo’s battalion are mostly good men. They offer their cynicism about their superiors’ motives and ability in private as a counterbalance to Leo’s sermons exhorting the men to offer themselves up willingly for the greater good. We learn much about the work of the wartime chaplain throughout the narrative and all ambivalence about Leo’s character we may have at the beginning of the book turns to quiet admiration by the end. This is a man who has grown into a determined and understated hero, loved by his men and officers alike. Do, I agree with the ending? I’m not sure. It may have been better left at the final chapter rather than the epilogue. To make your own mind up, you have to read it. If you want the antithesis of a light read, this is it.
A skilful first novel, beautifully written and executed.