Top 5 ‘War’ Books

Monday 24 February 2014 by

It feels a bit unseemly to call books “war” books. But nonetheless, many novels are identified by their one striking feature – and that is war. I overheard someone on the train the other day exclaim “ooh, I love a good war book!” and it got me wondering about what have been my favourite books set during wartime. So, in true House of Blog style, here are my Top 5 “War” Books…

Catch-22, Book, Joseph Heller
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

A unique blend of nonsense and drama, it took the first two chapters of Catch-22 to actually Get It. It tells the story of Yossarian, an American bombardier stuck on a fictional Italian island during World War II and his varied and outrageous attempts to get out of flying missions. It’s hilarious, and because it is so funny, you grasp some of the true horror of war.

Charlotte Gray, Book, Sebastian Faulks
Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

I could choose the more obvious Birdsong (a classic “war” novel in itself), but Charlotte Gray always struck a chord with me more. Charlotte goes to Occupied France on a dual mission: she is primarily there to run an errand for a British special operations group, but also to find her lover – a British airman who was shot down. To me this, this is a great love story, and Charlotte is a magnetic protagonist. Faulks manages to grasp the intricacies and fear of war, whilst displaying the beauty of human courage (and love).

Nella Last's War, Book, Diary, Nella Last
Nella Last’s War by Nella Last

Nella is a housewife in Barrow, and begins writing her diary in 1939 as part of the ‘Mass Observation’ project. What results is Nella Last’s War, a funny, harrowing, fascinating and unique look at World War II. From the mundane to the improbable, this book is all the more fantastic for being real.

The Siege, Book, Helen Dunmore
The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Leningrad, September 1941. German troops surround the Russian city, and the coldest, bitterest Winter begins. Four people – Anna, Andrei, Anna’s father and his lover Marina – soon discover what it means to survive, whilst holding on to love and hope. The Siege is by one of my favourite authors of all time, and is poetic and magnificent whilst still being human and sharply observant.

Suite Francaise, Book, Irene Nemirovsky
Suite Française by Irène Némirosky

It’s not just the storyline of Suite Française that caused me to pick it up – it is the story of the author too. Set during the year that France fell, the novel tells the tale in two parts – the first follows a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion and the second the inhabitants of a rural village as they survive under occupation. Némirovsky sat down to write the novel – meant to be a sequence of stories – in 1941, but died before its completion in Auschwitz in 1942. These two sections were discovered 65 years later, and published as an incomplete set. They are a close-up look at France during the War, in all its glory and its grit.

It’s odd that it’s only after writing this that I’ve noticed that they are all set in World War II!

What are your favourite novels set in wartime?
Can you recommend any good wartime books?

1 Comment

  1. Carole Holland

    Brother in the Land by Robert Swindells is one of my favourites, though it is more the fallout of nuclear war than a traditional war time novel.

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