Overcoming the ravages of war

2011-08-03 00:00

IF Paul Torday’s latest novel was a film, it would definitely be film noir. A dark, moody protagonist bruised by his encounter with the war in Afghanistan, finds his life takes a strange turn when he decides to walk from London to Oxford for a bet. So pervasive is the sense of dark mystery in the novel that I was startled each time I realised it’s set in England.

When Richard Gaunt finishes his service as part of the brutal Task Force Black in Afghanistan, his Regimental Medical Officer recommends that he may need some form of counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder. The medical officer also tells him that he isn’t able to claim for this treatment from medical aid as “it’s not recognised as an insurable illness.” Richard thinks he’ll be able to adapt to civilian life on his own, even after he’s been party to the most inhumane aspects of humanity. He returns to his family, but is unable to speak to them of anything normal or otherwise. After three days, all are relieved when he leaves. His long-term girlfriend Emma thinks she’ll be able to help him adjust by giving him all the love she can muster. To help him find some-thing to do, she opens her own restaurant, where Gaunt is in charge of hosting the guests. Unfortunately, ­Richard’s front-of-house skills are not quite tuned to the hospitality industry, and one incident frightens off the chef. Emma can’t take it anymore.

So it is that Richard finds himself walking to Oxford after a night of gambling. Until he’s kidnapped by a man who forces him to marry a beautiful girl from Afghanistan, against her will. Adeena is lost, helpless, and Richard finds a sense of purpose in trying to protect her. Even though his kidnappers have other plans.

This is a great novel, fast-paced and simply told. It also has a strong message about post-traumatic stress, one which should be told in our country where so many men have never overcome the ravages of the war just two decades ago.

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