It’s ironic that this book is the first of many I’ll be reviewing and writing on – sometimes New Year’s ideas have a habit of conspiring with Kindle one-click purchasing and a couple of days to enjoy before the cricket starts…!
On the face of it, this book was to be a fascinating insight into the life of a cadet (think uni student) at an American military ‘school’ / uni called ‘the Institute’.
I’d never read anything by Pat Conroy before, and I’m still not sure if I will again.
The book is hard; it’s a hard read for the brutality of the hazing of the cadets, set in the mid-late 1960s in an institution very clearly modelled, I read in the reviews, on the Virginia Military Institute, where Conroy attended. The scenes of ‘initiation’ (called The Taming) and the ugliness and archaic ways the cadets are driven into leaving the school sat extremely uneasily. The occasional taunt, dacking in water polo and leery post-exam parties of my (secondary) school years are a world away from Conroy’s – and I’m very glad!
Set in Charleston, the language is as languid as a tortuous, stifling humid Southern summer. It’s hard to get a real sense of the city as Conroy spends more time painting pictures with the word ‘I’ than he does of what he sees. That said, his writing is angry, reflective, and suggests a man who wanted to get back at his tormentors.
A movie was made from the book and was filmed in the UK as, according to Wikipedia, none of the American military colleges would allow filming on their campuses, such was the negativity the book portrayed of them.
After a few pages, you can understand why.
The book became a race for me; it was so ridden of page after page after page of prose that I decided very early on to just plough through it and finish it. I wanted to know how the main character, Will McLean, ended up, and I wanted to know what happened to two major story lines. I finished it, though the book was not fun, uplifting, nor particularly enlightening. It was bitter, brutal and ugly – like, perhaps as its author intended, it should be.
It’s a tough, nasty, dark book – ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets the barely-segregated South – and one I won’t be reading again.