One of the books I’m currently reading is James Jones’s doorstop of a novel From Here to Eternity. First published in 1951, it’s set in Hawaii, and follows the peacetime exploits of G company in the months immediately preceding Pearl Harbor and the USA’s entry into WWII in 1941.
It has just been republished with many excisions restored. The military language is also peppered with the vernacular, and many swear-words were cut – Jones apparently had to bargain hard to keep each one in, some cut scenes have also been restored.
The basic story follows two of the men in G Company. G is known for its boxing, and when career soldier Private Prewitt transfers in, they hoped he would become a new champion. Prewitt, however refuses to box and gets poorly treated by the NCOs as a result. The other strand follows Sergeant Milt Warden who has an affair with his Captain’s wife.
Milton Anthony Warden was thirty-four years old. In the eight months he had been topkicker of G Company he had wrapped that outfit around his waist and buttoned his shirt over it. At intervals he like to remind himself of this proud fact. He was a veritable demon for work; he liked to remind himself of that, too. He had also pulled this slovenly organization out of the pitfalls of lax administration. In fact, when he thought about it, and he often did, he had never met a man who was as amazingly adept at anything he put his hand to as was Milton Anthony Warden.
I’ve now reached page 160 of over 950, and am finding it very dense, and slightly hard-going – yet Jones really understands the plight of the enlisted man, and that makes it fascinating. It’s incredibly detailed too – I’ve just read a scene where the guys are playing poker for dimes in the latrines – and that is around twenty pages of banter. The writing is driven by dialogue and observation rather than description. It rather reminds me of Elmore Leonard minus the humour, for it is really a relentless life for these guys – the endless fatigue duties for those who won’t box …
I am beginning to enjoy reading this book. I’m glad I’ve persevered past the difficult ‘I’ve read 50 pages, do I really want to read another 900?’ point. I’m also glad that I’ve never seen the 1953 movie in full – just clips – usually of the scene where Burt Lancaster (Warden) rolls in the sea with Deborah Kerr. This doesn’t actually happen in the book; I know that. But not having seen the film properly, my vision of what’s going to happen hasn’t been spoiled either.
I hadn’t been planning to write a blog post so early into the book, but was prompted to by an article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph about Tim Rice’s latest co-venture with Geordie composer Stuart Brayson – a musical of From Here to Eternity, and based upon the book not the movie!
The musical promises to straddle the eras of swing and blues as exemplified by Tommy Dorsey and Elvis – so the music could be rather good, and Rice’s lyrics are always excellent. It previews from Monday in the West End. I’m not rushing to book my tickets yet, but I shall definitely follow the reviews and see…
One last thing – the title of the novel comes from Kipling’s Gentlemen-Rankers, in Barrack-room Ballads…
Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree,
Damned from here to eternity,
God ha’ mercy on such as we,
Ba! Yah! Bah!
[Ed: Shortly after posting this, I decided to give up on the rest of the book! DNF.]
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Source: Amazon Vine review copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
From Here to Eternity (Penguin Modern Classics) by James Jones – this edition published 5th Sept. Paperback 976 pages.
From Here To Eternity [DVD] (1953) starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr