Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: Killing Rommel, by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield has built an impressive folio of historical fiction works: The Legend of Bagger Vance achieved him notoriety in the movie world, while his novel The Gates of Fire has become almost required reading for the US Marine Corps.  To paraphrase former Doctor Who script editor Terrance Dicks  - "Selling out storyline for a pot of historical reality" is not what Pressfield's about.

His novel Killing Rommel is, much like the war in the desert, gritty, realistic and slightly overglorified.

Of all the Generals of World War Two, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was probably the most respected by both sides.  He was close to the Fuhrer, displayed bravery and leadership beyond that of many other generals and a respect for the rules of war that others in his position failed to emulate.  He was also, alongside Patton, the most awe-inspiring General, manning a staff car alongside the advance ranks of his men rather than being secreted far behind.

He was also a Nazi.

Given Pressfield's willingness to sacrifice some plot aspects for storyline, he pitches the Long Range Desert Group - a group of British and New Zealanders in trucks - in a series of long-range missions aimed at demotivating their German and Italian opponents by assassinating their inspiring leader.  Who, in this universe, isn't a Nazi and displays a code of honour that even Judge Judy couldn't match.

Occasional historical dalliances aside, the greatest failing of the book is in the mechanism of the narrative.  It is pitched in the time-honoured style of  "a manuscript discovered"; in this case an American who's adapted a memoir bequeathed to to him by a mentor who was an English member of the LRDG.  Pressfield's talent is for describing real-life battles and their consequences, not for understanding "Britishness", resulting in overuse of phrases and hackneyed British stereotypes.

However, he more than almost any other historical fiction author, fully allows the reader to grasp the combination of the vital importance of the North African campaign, the gravity of dying comrades and the incredible comradeship found amongst men on the battlefield.  Pressfield attempts to take his readers of a journey of what it meant to be part of a force comprised of individuals but larger than the the sum of those people.  It is unfortunate that he doesn't completely succeed.

While not an exciting, compelling read, Killing Rommel is enjoyable and can be ploughed through quickly.  It also has it's share of poignant moments strewn amongst intimate descriptions of battle.  Tennis balls.

No comments:

Post a Comment