On the Bookshelf: The Junior Officer’s Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey
Killing Time and Fighting Wars
by Patrick Hennessey
The idea of a reading club that meets in dangerous places around the world kind of appeals to me. It begs a sort of ‘what book would you want on a deserted island’ question, except in this case the destination is likely to be a war zone. What sort of book would you want to take? Would it be something fictional and escapist? Would it be something that has a bearing on your current situation, a history or perhaps a memoir? Would it be a classic or something from your quantum library, that you can read over and over again, each time getting something new from it?
For Patrick Hennessey, I would say at different times it is all of these things. The Junior Officer’s Reading Club is his personal journey through five years in the British military, starting at the Sandhurst Military Academy through his time as a junior officer in the Grenadier Guards deploying to Bosnia, parading at Buckingham Palace, in the Green Zone of Iraq and at the pointy end of the spear in Helmand Province Afghanistan. In each of these places Hennessey seems to have a different voice. During his time at Sandhurst he is snarky and snide, marvelling at the brutal pointlessness. In Bosnia the tone shows the boredom of the garrison soldier. His pride in being a ceremonial soldier in London shows through, though tempered by his eye-rolling disbelief at actually being a tourist attraction and desire to go out and do some real soldiering. When the Grenadier Guards are deployed to Iraq Hennessey is openly hopeful of seeing some real action, but being stationed in the Green Zone he only catches glimpses from afar, seeming to spend more time by the pool or working on his tan than patrolling in Baghdad. Finally when Hennessey reaches Afghanistan and combat, his prose begins to turn darker and increasingly introspective. Finally a soldier and finally fighting a war, Hennessey struggles with the strange dichotomy of wanting to be anywhere but in Afghanistan, but knowing that if he were, his only wish would be to be back in that hellish place with his men. It is something that frightens him enough to resign afterward and haunts him even after returning to a society of friends and relatives that seem to have little real interest in what he has gone through and never really could unless they had done it themselves.
The Junior Officer’s Reading Club is a great read. Sometimes surreal and absurd, sometimes dark and poignant. Patrick Hennessey’s writing style is at times almost stream-of-consciousness but always relatable and readable.