Anatomy of a Soldier is the highly inventive début novel from Harry Parker. It focuses on Tom Barnes, a soldier fighting in an unspecified war (albeit with a Middle Eastern feel), and who is injured by an IED. The uniqueness of the novel stems from the perspective from which the story is told – each of the 45 chapters is told from the point of view of a different inanimate object. The first chapter, for example, is told from the perspective of the tourniquet that is applied to Tom’s leg in the aftermath of the explosion; the tourniquet which saves his life while he is airlifted to a medical facility. Later chapters are told from the perspective of other objects – various items of Tom’s kit, medical equipment, even his mother’s handbag for the chapter where his parents first hear the news about their son.
You don’t always know, at the beginning of the chapter what the item is, although it’s clear by the end of the chapter. This, combined with the out of sequence telling, made the story extremely intriguing for me, as I was able to gradually develop my understanding of the events leading up to and following on from the explosion. And it isn’t always directly focussed on Tom – we also see events from objects belonging to the local populace, both those involved in the conflict as well as innocent bystanders.
What amazed me about the novel was that using objects to tell the story means that it’s told completely impassively, without any emotion. Feelings are observed in people, but are simply descriptions of someone’s thoughts and feelings. I think that this bears the risk of being cold and detached, and it was anything but. This is an exceptionally poignant novel, that highlights the various stages that someone in this situation might go through – the pain, the anger, the despair and yet also, eventually, hope.
This is not war glorified. It feels real (I have no experience upon which to base this assessment – it’s just my opinion) and gritty, and I loved the insight into the relationships formed with fellow soldiers and the camaraderie between them. The fact that Tom is often referred to by his tag – BA5799 – suggested to me that this could be the experience of any of those who are fighting or have fought for their country, and who all too often become a statistic.
With a few notable exceptions, I tend to struggle with war novels – for whatever reason, they just don’t do anything for me. Anatomy of a Soldier blew me away, however – I absolutely loved it. It’s a novel that will stay with me for some time to come, and is already a firm favourite of mine.