Title: Strange Meeting
Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Profile Books
Published: 23rd May 2018
Synopsis: A story of love and loss in wartime from master storyteller Susan Hill.
Returning to his battalion in France after a period of medical leave in England, John Hilliard, a young officer, finds his division almost unrecognisable. His commanding officer is an alcoholic, there is a new adjutant and several of his close friends have been killed.
But there is David Barton. As yet untouched and unsullied by war, fresh-faced and radiating charm. As the pair approach the front line, bloodied by the deaths of their fellow soldiers, their friendship deepens. But as the reality of the violence sets in, the men know that they will soon be separated…
A poignant novel on human love as war and the pity of war.
Upon his return to his battalion in France during World War One, or as it was known then, The War to End All Wars, John Hilliard finds those he has fought have changed: several friends are dead, there is a new adjutant he needs to get used to, and his commanding officer has become an alcoholic. As the horrors of war close in, John and his friends have to face the reality of being separated by the violence and the death that starts to suffocate and invade the battlefields and trenches of France. It is a war that they hope will never be repeated, yet it is also a war that they know will happen again – because they know there’s little chance of this war ending all wars to come in the decades after the closure of World War One, or as it was known then, The Great War.
Throughout the novel, it is known that there are battles waging in the trenches of France, and battles of the mind and soul within the soldiers fighting. It is a look at how the war affected a specific person and his specific surroundings – illustrating one of the kinds of experiences that soldiers in the trenches had. It is poignant, especially as 2018 marks the 100th anniversary since the end of World War One.
Hilliard’s interactions with the new arrival, David Barton, who has not been disillusioned by what was known as the excitement of war at the time, he radiates a charm that Hilliard will find hard to let go of – knowing that at some stage, the war will separate them and cast their lives aside.
Strange Meeting is a war novel that is about war, and at the same time, about the humans involved in war, and what is lost both physically and emotionally – the cost of life, and the cost of self as war ravages these young men as they venture into the unknown, with only the hope that they will survive and return home in one piece – and if not in one piece, then at least alive, to their families.
Strange Meeting is a novel that is more literary, and character driven – all we know of the settings is that they are the theatres of World War One in France, and my guess, around 1916-1917, perhaps the Battle of the Somme or Ypres. What is known though, is how these events and all other events of the war have impacted on the men such as Hilliard, and this is what makes it a powerful and poignant novel.