“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
“Walking Wounded” by Sheila Llewellyn is not an easy book to read. It’s the kind of novel that asks to be put down, to be breathed through. This is not due to its corporeal size, but to the emotional weight it carries.
Though it travels back and forth in time, the journey begins at the Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital. The narrative is led by two characters: David Reece, an ex-soldier struggling to settle back into civilian life after being demobilised from Burma, and Daniel Carter, a senior psychiatrist assigned to help David while fighting his own personal and professional demons.
“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
─ Howard Zinn
There are two opening scenes before the actual beginning of the book that set the tone for what follows. While David in Burma bears witness to two men cutting into a mule’s voice box with the intention of silencing the animal, Daniel in Barnwood House Hospital observes a leucotomy being performed on a woman suffering from “melancholia”. These two procedures, seemingly unrelated at first, draw parallels between the two characters that then intertwine their experiences throughout the pages.
The fact that they are both haunted by memories from their pasts, and by the expectations of their futures, surrounds their every interaction with an extraordinarily particular aura. Llewellyn seems to acknowledge this, her writing attending to the smallest of details with such reverence that time itself seems to slow down. I would say that David and Daniel’s relationship is the catalyst for a change that has them facing their fears and speaking up.
“War does not determine who is right ─ only who is left.”
No one wanted to hear about the war. No one wanted to see the war. However, some had no choice.
While some made of silence a science, art became others’ voice. Instead of eliminating pieces, more were sought for the sake of understanding. Facing the past for what it was, moving forward to a future that could be anything.
"Walking Wounded” is both an exceptionally powerful and incredibly disturbing dance between fact and fiction. Having worked with victims of PTSD herself, Sheila Llewellyn is able to navigate the post-war period with the consideration it deserves. Throughout the book, the leucotomy cleverly becomes a metaphor, the silencing of the voices that know victory to be an immense spectrum that goes beyond pride.
The Book Club will explore The End of Loneliness on Tuesday 13th February - book here.