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This review is taken from PN Review 145, Volume 28 Number 5, May - June 2002.

SEEING IN A FLASH TOM PAULIN, The Invasion Handbook (Faber and Faber) £12.99

The Second World War had its British poets but, compared with its forerunner and prequel, it has somehow resisted becoming 'literary'. Belated retrospectives, wonderfully and judiciously from Walcott, and obsessively from Ishiguro in prose, begin to construct a postmodern Second World War canon, but 'war poets' remain a First World War phenomenon. Perhaps today we are not so moved by war, war being so mind-numbingly perpetual, as by the concept of 'nation'. If the Second World War was the 'finest hour' of the British 'nation', a true epic of violent struggle for national survival, a just war against an insane cause, in which the tribes and class factions in the kingdom stood shoulder to shoulder, back to back, at the last desperate ditch, that 'hour', it may be, was somehow too intense and awful to command the contemporary literary imagination.

Certainly, the pace of things was different from that in the mud at Flanders. The fronts were more numerous (and, most tellingly, nearer home, as in the Blitz, as well as farther flung). Once activated they tended to be more fluid. The weapons themselves were more monstrously efficient, the machinery of war more rapid. 'Poetry' was anyway again redundant, and pity, thanks to Nazism, became deeply problematic. There were no swimmers into cleanness leaping on the beaches of Dunkirk or Normandy (though presumably there were more than one or two derring-do Keith Douglases present, with and without cameras). By 1918 and the conclusion of 'the war that ...


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