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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

Ginger, You're Barmy - David Lodge This is another unripe but still tasty fruit of the early production by David Lodge just like "Out of the shelter".

At this time Lodge flirts and winks with the oddities of military life and the obscene self-referential troopers' slang in the wake of "Catch 22" and "M.A.S.H".

And yet, there is an undeniable Englishness in this book that makes it enjoyable, although not an essential reading, for all the fans of Mr Lodge.
"Ginger you're barmy" narrates the cultural shock of Jonathan Browne, a brilliant but bookwormish BA Hons graduate forced to spend two years of his life in the British Army for attending the infamous National Service in the 1950s.

As a young and extremely reluctant conscript, Jonathan cannot tolerate the triviality and illiteracy of a standard barrack's life. Quite soon he developes a disgust for the whole daily comedy made of parades, brass cleaning, obscure acronyms, freeze-dried food and fruitless drills.

Jonathan finds some comfort in the friendship of Mike "Ginger" Brady a former college mate of him who joins his same distaste for the harsh Army life.
While Jonathan dislikes but resigns himself to accepting the unfairness and nonsense of the military training, Mike coming from an Irish and Catholic family, is more impulsive and determined in fighting against it. The opposition to the constant hazing of Percy Higgins fresh, wimpish (and needless to say, Catholic) recruit by corporals and other soldiers becomes the way in which Mike expresses his firm idealism.

What stroke me the most is the vivid and not pitiful description of the arrogant mistreatment by the clumsy, unfortunate recruit by one of the corporals supported by most of the troopers.
It should be stressed out how this book was written ages before "The Short-Timers" by Gustav Hasford the book that inspired Kubrick's masterpiece "Full Metal Jacket". And yet the torments of young Higgins very much resemble the ones of Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence.

I am not ginger, I am not barmy and I have never joined the army.
Still this book, apart from the usual 'Lodgian' obsession for problematic Catholics and the unreachable goal of pre-marriage sex, has been a good companion and a handy guide to discover a half-vanished aspect of the UK.

I do think that peculiar characters like Norman "the industrial slum product" who eventually becomes the person in charge for the piggery of a military camp, can still be found in the Royal Army nowadays. I could easily imagine a 21st century Norman breaking up the silence of a troopers' dormitory somewhere in Dorset or in the Midlands with a savage howl of "I'll ride ya!".