No Man’s Land by Simon Tolkien.

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About the Book

From the slums of London to the riches of an Edwardian country house; from the hot, dark seams of a Yorkshire coalmine to the exposed terrors of the trenches, Adam Raine’s journey from boy to man is set against the backdrop of a society violently entering the modern world.
Adam Raine is a boy cursed by misfortune. His impoverished childhood in the slums of Islington is brought to an end by a tragedy that sends him north to Scarsdale, a hard-living coalmining town where his father finds work as a union organizer. But it isn’t long before the escalating tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, explode with terrible consequences.
In the aftermath, Adam meets Miriam, the Rector’s beautiful daughter, and moves into Scarsdale Hall, an opulent paradise compared with the life he has been used to before. But he makes an enemy of Sir John’s son, Brice, who subjects him to endless petty cruelties for daring to step above his station.
When love and an Oxford education beckon, Adam feels that his life is finally starting to come together – until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart.

My Review

‘The trenches changed all of us: made us older and drier – like we are trees that have lost their sap…’

No Man’s Land is a novel that I can only describe as a beautifully written but devastating book to read. It follows the life of Adam Raine, from his childhood poverty in Islington, a move to a mining community in Yorkshire and then to the trauma at the Somme.
It did take me some time to get into it but I was prepared for this after seeing a handful of reviews that said the same. I found it picked up after a serious accident at the mine that changed Adam’s life completely. He adapted to his life quite well, even though he still felt like an outsider much of the time. Luckily he had some good friends in the village and with Seaton, his benefactor’s son.
When war broke out Adam was initially reluctant to join up but after being in Scarborough when it came under attack he realized that he had no other option. The parts of the novel that covered the war was the most upsetting piece of fiction that I have ever read. There were times that everything I was reading had me in tears and I was constantly processing it even when I wasn’t reading it.
Simon Tolkien does a fantastic job of portraying the fear experienced by the soldiers. The ineptitude of the generals along with the sights, smell and noise of the battle. Certain descriptions of the trenches will probably stay with me for years.
But amongst all of this was the friendship between Adam, Ernest, Rawdon, Luke, Seaton, Harry, Davy, and the ones who were left at home that gave strength and odd touches of humour to the novel.
This is a novel that at times I struggled to read but only because of how it made me feel emotionally. It’s one that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, brilliant.

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