By: Joseph Kessel
Format/Source: eARC courtesy of Pushkin Press via NetGalley
The crew of a French reconnaissance plane during WW1 consisted of just two men: a pilot and an observer. Two such men are Jean Herbillon and Claude Maury. Herbillon’s dreams of glory as an air ace have been dashed after only a few months at the front; Maury suffers from a broken heart–his only hope is that his exploits as a pilot will win back his lost love. Together the two form one of the best crews in the air, fighting in the first aerial conflict in history–one in which a combatant can count his life expectancy in weeks. The pressure of war forges a strong bond between the two flyers, but can it survive the discovery that they are both in love with the same woman?
Joseph Kessel’s autobiographical novel is a staggering tale of courage, brotherhood and loss.
I’ve becoming something of a fan of the classics that Pushkin Press have been publishing after reading Alexander Lerner-Holenia’s Mona Lisa (review) so I immediately requested an eARC of this title when I saw it on NetGalley. It’s something different, this time from French literature, and I had heard of the author in passing. Of course it was only afterwards that I learned that he’s quite the titan in modern French literature. I also learned an interesting piece of trivia: his nephew is author Maurice Druon (see author tag). Anyway, this book will be available on 16 August 2016.
The Crew was an interesting novel about soldiers’ experiences during World War One, both on the battlefield and their personal lives away from the battlefront. Much of the novel centres on the way that these soldiers bond over the course of the war and their time working together, a camraderie that’s difficult to break even when personal conflict threatens to destroy those bonds. It can be a bit of a slow read but it does shed light on the way these relationships are forged, as well as highlighting the increasing tension between Jean and Claude, but it also drives home towards the end of the novel the tragedy of war, of the youth dying and the old and the women and everyone who were left behind lingering in their wake.
Talk about the war being a ripe setting for a personal drama! Speaking of a slow burn, and similar to The Flight (review), the confrontatiion between Jean and Claude about the same woman doesn’t come to a head until the last third of the novel. Doubts and questions about whether they are talking about the same woman does arise much earlier, and Jean comes to the truth of the matter somewhere midway, leaving tensions pretty amped up until the end when Claude finds out. Helene/Denise didn’t help matters, to be honest; like, one the one hand, it sucks being the woman left behind and both men’s treatment of her was unfair, but her characterisation sadly felt a bit two-dimensional and irrationally selfish, I was getting irritated with her (and Jean) at one point when they were recklessly playing close to exposure.
In the end, The Crew was an intriguing read about the First World War. With such events circling around the characters, the ending was rather sad but the fate of one of the characters was a bit surprising on my part. Overall I’m glad to have finally read something by Joseph Kessel, and would recommend this title to those interested in reading contemporary titles about World War One.