Over the past three years, a lot has been written about the Great War. The major events have been highlighted as 100 years was marked for each one. Families have unearthed letters which bring a more personal view of the war. Distance and time soften the horror of those stories.
Greg Hall has written Good Sons to highlight the impact of war on ordinary people. In this case, three friends from Oamaru. The story is told by Frank Wilson from his schooldays and adventures as a young boy, to the battlefields of Europe. The detail of his life is minutely drawn. My 90-year-old Father was quite taken by the descriptions of ordinary life: going camping, riding bikes, playing rugby and the importance of family life.
While Frank and his best mates, Tom Davis and Robert Sutherland eagerly await their birthdays so they can sign up, we read small press clippings at the start of each chapter detailing the progress of the war. These are at times shocking in their paternalistic and biased interpretation of events. It is a clever device to contrast the reported and the real.
The trust, the naïveté and the courage of these three is undeniable. I loved the details of the train ride through Timaru, the training camps and the night out from Trentham to Wellington. On arrival in France we are led to the battlefields and horror of war.
Greg Hall has taken on War commentary through his writing, poetry and research. He is the director of the Passchendaele Society. His superb knowledge lends credibility to the events and descriptions in the book. Even the cover photo communicates contrast of three fine boys, and three battle weary soldiers. This is a very readable account from a New Zealand perspective. While more academic tomes appeal to some, I loved the accessibility of his writing. This is a novel of war, both heroic and horrendous.
Reviewed by Kathy Watson
Good Sons: A Novel of the Great War
by Greg Hall
Published by Mary Egan Publishing