The Hoover Institution of Stanford University has added Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy to its Classics of Military History. This is a recommended reading list posted on the Hoover’s internet site. The explanation for inclusion of Waugh’s war novels is written by military historian Max Boot. Here’s an excerpt:
It deserves to be known as the finest work of fiction to come out of World War II. Certainly it is far superior to juvenile novels such as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead or even Joseph Heller’s absurdist Catch-22…Ultimately the tone is elegiac, because the books are suffused with awareness that the war is leading to the demise of the British Empire and giving rise to a monstrous tyranny—the Soviet empire—in place of the fascist dictatorships which are being defeated.
NOTE (12 March 2016) David Lull has also kindly sent a copy of a story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal in which novelist Simon Mawer lists his five favorite books about the experience of war. All deal with WWII. Waugh’s Sword of Honour is on the list:
Much has been written about the horrors of World War II, but it takes true genius to write a successful comic novel about it. This is what Waugh achieved in “The Sword of Honour.” Published as three separate novels, it is a roman à clef based on his personal experience in the army. The story abounds with ludicrous and appalling characters—from the fire-eating Brig. Ritchie-Hook to the absurd Capt. Apthorpe and his bush thunderbox (a kind of portable latrine), to the lovely and licentious Virginia Troy—all viewed through the increasingly disillusioned eyes of Guy Crouchback, one of Virginia’s ex-husbands and a devout Catholic. At the start Guy fancies himself as some kind of noble crusader, but as the war progresses his sense of idealism is repeatedly undermined. This was more or less Waugh’s own progress through the conflict. His sardonic wit serves as an astringent shock to anyone who might imagine that the war effort was all about heroism and brilliance. More than that, it’ll also make you laugh out loud.
The only other fiction included on Mawer’s list was Dan Billany’s The Trap (1950), which is still in print.