Friday 27 September 2013

I am the enemy you killed, my friend by Stephen John

The magpies are squabbling over territory in the cemetery. Chris has seen enough. He’s ready to leave but he can’t. It’s not time yet. There’s something he needs to do before he goes. 

While he waits, Chris reflects on the fight that changed his life and everything that led up to it. He recounts the physical and psychological journey from his confrontations with the school bully to the day he went to war. But Chris has found his peace at last. His fighting is done.


I will shamefacedly admit that I did put off reading this book as the cover did not appeal to me and for a long while I was looking for a lighter read. When I did get round to reading this, I thought it was so well written and I was actually ashamed of myself for putting it off for so long.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend is a line from the famous poet Wilfred Owen when he reflects on The Great War. Although this story is centred around the 1982 South Atlantic conflict, the line still rings true in this story. 

We are first introduced to Chris whilst is in a cemetery. Chris begins to recount his life from the events leading up to that fateful fight and the events after it. We go back to Chris's childhood in the 1970's and him having to deal with the devastating death of his Father and the aftermath of this, such as the difficult relationship with his Mother who has to struggle to make ends meet, and the school bully Lee Cracknall who seems to cause a lot of distress in Chris's young life. With the linking between the past and the present, it was always in the back of my mind as to what had happened to lead Chris to the cemetery in the future. It also leaves you wondering whose grave Chris is at and this partly propelled me on in the story.

I completely fell into sync with Chris's narrative and Stephen John portrays Chris emotions and difficulties with amazing literary skill. It's unusual for me to be that empathetic with a male character; not that I can't empathise with male characters, just that I tend to find that their thoughts and ways of dealing with things to be that much different to a woman's. Despite these difficulties though, Chris has the wonderful Howard and Jules. These two were my favourite characters as they brought light into Chris dark world.

This was quite a hard story to read at times, especially the effect that the war had on Chris. You can see how he is inadvertently destroying the world around him, and I felt so desperate for him and for people to realise what was happening to him. What was more shocking for me, were the statistics at the end. The 1982 war is seldom talked about and very few people know about it, so to read that so many went through the emotional struggles that Chris went through was heartbreaking.

Even though I felt emotionally drained while reading this, the ending gives the novel a lightness and lots of revelations come to light that I was not expecting.

A poignant novel about the devastation of war, but the endurance of love.


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