Kicking the Hornets' Nest by Gerry Wells
|Kicking the Hornets' Nest by Gerry Wells|
|Genre: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A collecton of short stories with a story arc. They're elegant, thought-provoking and brilliantly readable. Gerry Wells popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: June 2012|
WWII books about the RAF and the Navy are quite common. Books about Special Operations Executive and similar organisations proliferate. Stories about the army are fewer and try as I might I really couldn't think of one which was other than incidentally about tank crew, so when the opportunity came I had to read 'Kicking the Hornets' Nest' particularly as it's written by an author who crewed a Sherman tank in Operation Overlord, back in June 1944. I had just a couple of nagging doubts. It's a book of short stories. Would I find it easy to pick up - and out down again? The big worry was whether or not this was going to be a macho action story, which wouldn't really be my cup of tea at all.
I needn't have worried on either count. Yes - it's a book of about thirty short stories based around the lives of the men who crewed ShitorBust, their tank and mobile home. The tank might change, but the name never did - after all, it worked so why come up with a new one? Matt was the lieutenant in charge of Obie, Pancho, (who succeeded Smith, who suffered from battle fatigue), Joe and Tom. Pancho was from 'somewhere in South America', generally thought to be Ecuador and he was skilled at driving the tank. Obie Walker, on the other hand has some unusual attributes. He's usually the man going on ahead to check out suspicious areas. He wears sneakers (I bet he called them plimsolls) and is reluctant to carry a gun. Cheese wire's his weapon of choice.
I've read few books about the war which are less macho. The words which kept coming to mind as I read were 'thought-provoking' and 'elegant'. You're probably wondering how these words fit with battle conditions, but these were (extra)ordinary men sent to fight on behalf of their country, not killers set loose upon the world. I was particularly struck by one incident when the body of a German soldier was spotted. The men had no compunction about the man being dead, but they were outraged by the manner of his death. To me that's a distinction which sums up war for the normal man.
The writing is beautiful but then Gerry Wells is a poet and he knows how to make every word earn its keep. Some of the stories are just a few pages long, others longer and whilst some are stronger than others there are none which I would call weak, in any way. They might be short stories but there's a story arc which takes you through from the final months of the war to a future when each man would have his own battles to fight.
If I've one quibble with the book it's that there are endnotes, which pull you out of the story. I'd have preferred a note on the page or a glossary - because I'd usually forgotten an explanation when I next met the word! It is though a minor quibble.
I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag. Although aimed at a slightly younger audience we can recommend War: Stories of Conflict by Michael Morpurgo as being similarly thought-provoking.
Gerry Wells was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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