Review of All Else is Folly from Forum Magazine, New York, edited by Henry Goddard Leach. December 1929. Vol. LXXXII, No. 6.
War’s A Drab
All Else is Folly by Peregine Acland; Coward McCann, $2.50.
Reviewed by Walter S. Hinchman
Two things make Major Acland’s war novel worth reading. The chief character, Alec Falcon, is well drawn. A sturdy young Canadian, perturbed by a melee within him of civilized inhibitions, high instincts, adventurous yearnings, and physical passions, he becomes a line officer in the World War. In that greater melee, whether on the field of battle or on leave in England, his vigorous, unsettled nature finds plenty of cause for ecstasy and revulsion. No gilded hero, he reveals a character that the reader can enter into, on the whole admire, and certainly love.
The other virtue of the book is the authentic picture of life in the front line trenches. Major Acland, himself no less scarred than his Alec Falcon, knows what he is talking about, and he does not mince matters. If Under Fire and All Quiet on the Western Front were not enough, this book should complete any civilian’s conviction that General Sherman was almost guilt of understatement. The final words express the conclusion of the whole matter, as the author sees it: “Yet he knew men who would never forego their lust for war until the paint was scraped off the cheeks of the drab and the pocks were revealed in all their filth.”
So much on the credit side. Unfortunately the scenes in England, with their dreary rounds of love-making, are not so convincing. The life of those days, especially when English gentry entertained breezy strangers from Colonial regiments, was no doubt rather unreal; but any picture of English women, with or without absent husbands, must include something besides witty and adventurous vamps. One such other is included, Adair Hollister, but she lacks vitality. In fact, one has the unpleasant feeling that Falcon’s attractiveness springs too much from his unattractive, frequently despicable, associates. So Nietzsche’s phrase, “All else is folly,” is almost justified at the same time that it is condemned –bitter disillusionment either way. Man hasn’t yet learned to love, and so he fights –or seeks what Neitzsche calls “recreation.” This is all right for a fragment and quite in tune with much modern writing, but one can’t help comparing it with the more complete and on the whole more voracious picture of life, if at times “too-too-sweet,” which the elder novelists, even Meredith and Hardy, felt themselves under obligation to paint.
The book is written, for the most part, in an appropriate style, though it suffers from the modern vogue for dots and unfinished sentences and it is marred, here and there, by unnecessary use by author, in his own comment, of the language which his rougher characters naturally use. Such expressions as “his guts tensed” sort ill with such bookishly reminiscent phrases as “an unconscionable time a-dying”; but if the reader can get through this difficulty, he will be rewarded by making the acquaintance of Alec Falcon and by realizing afresh that war is a drab “when the paint is scraped off.”
Pages 304 & 306.