• Shell Shock: the diary of Tommy Atkins by Neil Blower

    Ed note: this is the second of three reviews for this book, this one coming from your own community and one that is sometimes forgotten when this subject arises - the families.

    What a book for a first novel. I reviewed this book as the daughter of an army family; a girlfriend of those who saw troubles in Northern Ireland and an ex-wife of someone who suffered from mild PTSD and combat stress as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    It is a book about PTSD, or as Neil Blower has so aptly named it ‘Shell Shock’ which of course is what it was known as in the First and Second World Wars, and a name which our older generations understand (the term PTSD is meaningless to many of them). But it is not just a novel about PTSD; it is about the good and the bad of the army; the good and bad sides of society; it’s about perception, values, family, relationships; in fact it is a novel about life as the book charts Tommy’s journey into civvie street after leaving the army.

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    Written as a diary, at breakneck speed and relatively short (168 pages in all) Shell Shock packs some punch. If you are expecting some beautifully written prose this is the wrong book for you, as is explained in the prologue, for in reality squaddies swear a lot! And there is a lot of effing and blinding as we follow Tommy’s mood swings from deep despair to high delight and back down again. His observations on life are succinct and to the point – if you want political correctness this is not a book for you either. Tommy writes it as it is. His thoughts, feelings, incomprehension at what is going on and the reactions of those around him are all catalogued. The occasional helping hand; the desperation and despair when faced with a senseless death and his resultant feelings of helplessness; the flashbacks, anger, nightmares, sleeplessness; symptoms which are all so so familiar to me.

    The last few entries (including the postscript) had me in helpless tears with the largest lump possible in my throat. To me these entries epitomised the best and the worst of the world we live in.

    In a nutshell this is a visceral read; it brought up memories of trying to deal with unreasonable anger, despair, mood swings with a partner who would not face up to what they were going through – after all 'one' is a tough fighting man and PTSD is for wusses. Except it isn’t. I hope lots of people read this book. It ought to be compulsory reading for anyone who studies the history of modern war; certainly it is short enough, forthright enough and plain enough for anyone to understand.

    As a footnote and on a purely personal note: This book seems particularly pertinent at the moment as I hear events unfold of rioting in London and across our country. For what do our armed services fight and go through unimaginable personal hells; for the right in our democracy to rob, riot and steal? It seems too high a price to pay.

    Wine rating: 5 glasses (you will need them)


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