No Man’s Land
By Simon Tolkien
Before you ask, yes – Simon Tolkien is related to that Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. is his grandfather, and the inspiration for his new novel. No Man’s Land, as the title hints, is set during the first world war, and turns into fiction J.R.R.’s experiences of the bloodiest battle of all: the Somme. J.R.R. fought on that front for three months in 1916 before being injured. Tolkien’s hero is Adam Raine, in many ways a dead ringer for the great fantasy author. He arrives at Oxford University after having lived first in London and then the tough northern mining village of Scarsdale. Oxford offers hope of intellectual and romantic escape (with the girl next door, Miriam) from the poverty-stricken wastes of industrial England. Then war is declared. After riots and attacks on expatriate Germans, Raine is sent to the front, where he witnesses the full horror of modern warfare. Tolkien writes well, both about wartime England and the unceasing violence of the battlefield. It is hard to do this without resort to cliché or the well-trodden imagery of Wilfred Owen, but Tolkien manages it coolly and capably.