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2020: Year of the Book

December 29, 2020

Well that was an interesting twelve months. I’ll spare you my personal experiences of it. We have all suffered, to varying degrees, through COVID-19 and the lockdowns, bereavements and the economic devastation it has entailed. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, we will continue to toil through this nightmare for some time to come.

However, it has not been an unremittingly grim year. There have been moments of great happiness, usually found in the quiet and simple joys of life that often passed us by in the frenetic pre-2020 world. Some of the most peaceful and satisfying moments I can remember were spent blissfully losing myself in a great novel. I have decided to write about just one of the those novels. It was recommended to me by a esteemed novelist who I’ll reveal at the end of this post.

From Here to Eternity

With From Here to Eternity James Jones, a hardbitten World War Two veteran, turned his experiences stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii into fiction and entered the pantheon of great twentieth-century novelists. Most of the novel takes place in the run-up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the reader follows the fortunes and misfortunes of bugler and boxer Private Robert ‘Prew’ Prewitt. Turned into an Oscar-winning film, with two television adaptations and even a musical version, From Here to Eternity is an epic tale of military life in peace and wartime. I’m guessing, like me, many of you have seen the film and its famous love-making on the beach scene with Burt Lancaster (as Sergeant Milt Warden) and Deborah Kerr as Karen Holmes (wife of the Captain that Sergeant Warden reports to). In the book, the more powerful and erotically-charged scene is when Warden visits Karen at her home with the intention of seducing her. Their bedroom shenanigans get comedic when Karen’s son comes home early from school and Warden has to hide in the closet. Its scenes such as this that make From Here to Eternity one of the classic American melodramas, but when the ‘date which will live in infamy’ finally arrives Jones doesn’t disappoint with the battle scenes.

The island setting is beautifully evoked with Jones’s military experience adding realism to the portrayal of army life. Joan Didion wrote:

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image, and not only Schofield Barracks but a great deal of Honolulu itself has always belonged for me to James Jones.

I first heard this quoted by James Ellroy in relation to the Los Angeles of his fiction, and whose love of From Here to Eternity (a strong influence on Perfidia and This Storm) drew me to this book. In the new year, I’m planning to review a number of other books which have inspired Ellroy’s writing over the years.

Thank you for reading this blog and see you in a happier and healthier 2021.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2020 3:18 pm

    Try Jones’ much shorter ‘follow up’ THE PISTOL whixch |I read more than 50 years ago and I still remember vividly.

    • December 29, 2020 3:30 pm

      Thanks Mike. I’ll try it. I was tempted by his follow-up Some Came Running but I’ve heard it’s where his epic narratives got too long and that’s where he lost the readers.

  2. Dan permalink
    December 29, 2020 9:47 pm

    Interesting timing…Just the other day I was thinking of rewatching the film version after first seeing it about a decade ago (and being on a Burt Lancaster binge the last month or so). And I had in mind Ellroy’s review of the novel which I believe he wrote a number of years ago.

    Since the summer I’ve made use of all the extra free time to reread all of Ellroy’s published work in no particular order. I’m about to finish up Clandestine tonight and will then just have Killer on the Road as the last book to finish up.

    • December 30, 2020 8:29 am

      Yes, I think Ellroy’s review was in the NPR. He much prefers the book to the film and it is far more graphic and disturbing in how it portrays certain themes. Epic task rereading Ellroy’s oeuvre. Clandestine is certainly one that gets better every time.

  3. Dan permalink
    December 30, 2020 11:50 pm

    More directly related to your article, I actually read over the summer several books that have had major impacts on Ellroy’s own life and career. Three Joseph Wambaugh classics-The Choirboys, The Blue Knight, and The New Centurions. And maybe the biggest influence of all- Jack Webb’s The Badge (with Ellroy introduction).

    • December 31, 2020 9:15 am

      Love early Wambaugh, and his one UK-set true-crime book The Blooding. The Badge is also excellent, and that cynical
      10-page summation of the Black Dahlia case. Wow!

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