In the Guardian’s ongoing series of the “100 Best Nonfiction Books,” its latest selection is Goodbye to All That, Robert Graves’ memoir of his WWI experiences and early life. The Guardian describes the book’s depiction of the war as an:
irreverent, comic, and often bawdy first-hand account of frontline action in France…His account of trench life is the thing that still grips the reader 100 years on. In keeping with the account of modern warfare reported by his friend Siegfried Sassoon, Graves describes a campaign that’s a succession of “bloody balls-ups”, in which farcical incompetence and stupidity are responsible for a casual and gruesome slaughter. He, in turn, adds his wild protest by ruthlessly celebrating the horrors of trench life – rotting corpses, scattered brain-matter, and visceral, almost animal, suffering…
The Guardian quotes Paul Fussell’s description of Graves as first and foremost: “a tongue-in-cheek neurasthenic farceur whose material is ‘facts’.” The article concludes with this comparison:
Goodbye to All That remains [Graves’] masterpiece, a classic of English autobiography, and a subversive tour de force that would inspire, among others, Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy.
A bit more of an explanation for this might have been useful, but the article is about Graves, not Waugh. Oddly, when the same columnist, Robert McCrum, wrote a Guardian series on “The Best 100 Novels,” the one Waugh novel he included was Scoop, not Sword of Honour. See earlier post.