Anatomy of a Soldier was a book that I had heard a lot about and had been looking forward to reading for some time. This debut novel from Harry Parker, a writer and artist who previously served in the British Army, is a unique glimpse into the life of a soldier.
‘A black marker wrote BA5799 O POS on me and I was placed in the left thigh pocket of BA5799’s combat trousers’
The novel tells the story of Captain Tom Barnes, known by his zap number – BA5799. It follows this soldier’s journey of survival, life at war and out of it. This in itself makes for an enlightening read but what makes this book even more interesting is that it is told from the perspective of inanimate objects. Each of its forty-five chapters are told from the perspective of a different object associated with the conflict. From parts of the soldier’s uniform, to weapons and the medical implements that heal the wounds they cause. Through each item, Parker has provided a fascinating insight into the life of a soldier and all the trials and challenges that it entails.
“I’m the bloke in this photo – dancing. I’m a runner, a soldier…”
In addition to the changing perspectives I also liked that the novel switched back and forth through time as the objects changed. This unusual narrative style worked well in giving the reader an idea of how disorienting these events can be, how easily something can be thrown apart. You are not always told what the object in each chapter is but you are shown and I enjoyed identifying each item and where it fits within the story. As the novel progresses it also enables the reader to piece together the whole story and the impact it had on others which kept me gripped. Events are centred around what happened when Barnes’ routine is thrown into disarray when he is injured by an exploding IED. We see the medics work to save his life and how he begins to deal with the aftermath – the rehabilitation, the adjustments and acceptance. But it is not just the soldier’s story here. It also looks at the different people caught up in the violence, from those fighting to those waiting at home, desperate for news.
‘I was fired at soldiers. I was fired into the air to celebrate weddings. I might or might not have killed anyone.’
I loved the honesty and intimacy within this novel. A character we initially see as a zap number becomes a friend we are rooting for. There are some particularly moving scenes with Barnes’ family as they tend to their bed-bound son. There are also moments that are unflinching in their portrayal of the horrific injuries sustained and some chapters make for uncomfortable reading as the surgical procedures are described in detail. However, I felt this was necessary in creating Barnes’ remarkable story. His story is a powerful one, and one that may mirror the experiences of many. As a reader I enjoyed sharing in one man’s remarkable journey through injury and recovery, and it’s a journey I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
‘He was unnatural, created by violence and saved by soldiers and medics: he’d survived the unsurvivable and it showed.’
I really enjoyed reading Anatomy of a Soldier. It is a book that shocked, moved and enlightened me. Harry Parker has used his own experiences to create what I feel is an important book, a book that gives you a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, those who make sacrifices and those who are there to save them.