Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen is a poignant novel, posing meaningful questions about the effects of war. Metzenthen’s ability to empathise with the suffering of his characters makes for a thoughtful story, which captures the pointlessness of the Vietnam War and its permanent imprint on the minds of those involved. This book is crafted with elegance – quite simply, everyone should read it.
Johnny Shoebridge was conscripted to fight in Vietnam, where he lost his two best mates and the better part of himself. Now, having returned to Australia, he is left with a build-up of smothered emotion and not enough words to convey it. As he attempts to clear his head, by driving to an unknown destination in the Australian countryside, Johnny finds himself kept company by an imaginary Viet Cong fighter, whom he names Khan. Despite their differences and bone-deep hatred, Johnny quickly finds that Khan is one of few with whom he can relate. Exposed to open hostility from some locals for being involved in the Vietnam War, Johnny meets Carly, another outsider frowned on by society. Damaged by her past, Carly too can understand Johnny in a way most others cannot, as he grapples to find the sweet side of himself he lost in the jungles of Vietnam.
Johnny is trapped: by his memories, society’s expectations, his lost friends whom he cannot let go of and Khan, who pursues him relentlessly. Ultimately, he is trapped within the depths of his own mind, but the question is: can he find his way out? Just because he is out of the jungle, does not mean he is out of the woods.
Metzenthen poignantly captures the ceaseless struggle our servicemen are exposed to long after they have left the battlefield. Some might suggest the book is difficult to keep up with as it flicks from past to present to imagination, however, this is in keeping with Johnny’s head and the confusion that follows him. This is a truly well-crafted novel which shines a harsh light on government accountability (or lack thereof), society’s quick-to-judge nature and most importantly, war’s inevitable scars. Metzenthen poses the reader some poignant questions, which will leave you thinking long after the last page.
This book is in a league of its own, making the Vietnam War accessible to younger readers. It is thoughtfully crafted and forces the reader to empathise with people whose problems are almost too significant to truly understand. Dreaming the Enemy is succinct, crafted and powerful – it is highly recommended!
Reviewed by Lydia Whyte
Provided as part of the A & U Ambassador Programme
Dreaming the Enemy
by David Metzenthen
Published by Allen & Unwin