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Soldier's Son

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Not for me 😔

This book chronicles the life of David and the multifaceted problems of coping with an undiagnosed mental illness in friends and family.

        Soldier’s Son by Ian Dodds is a novel that reflects on the life of a family affected by the father’s war PTSD, and how these characters grow and develop into people who are conscious of mental illness and how to cope with it. It follows the story of David from childhood into adulthood, from being afraid of his soldier father, learning how to become independent from a young age, into eventually getting jobs, coping with anger, studying at university, and starting his own family, all while learning how to handle personal trauma and that of friends and family.

               This book is a confusing and awkward myriad of human relations; the plot is nothing complicated and it is character development and interpersonal relations which carries the book forward. Set in New Zealand during the 1960s, David and his family hold on to the past out of circumstance, for his father lives in post WWII PTSD and will not let them forget what he has been through. Outside of their home, the world is rapidly changing into a place of feminism, single parenthood, college careers, among other things daunting to traditionalists. As David grows he becomes fearful of treating others as he has witnessed his father treating his family even though he does not have the mental instability that his father did. His then girlfriend is supportive and encourages him to seek therapy and psychological help, which allows him to recognize behaviors and “blossom” into a more balanced adult.

               However, in my view, the way in which mental instability is represented in this book lacks nuance mainly because the writing lacks composition skills. The novel features a gamut of unhinged characters with whom David interacts, as well as David himself. These characters do not seem real and three-dimensional, as their unmotivated manic behavior makes them all seem shallow and obsessive and there is little difference between them. For example, Cherie’s first appearance marks her as a caring, understanding girl who wants what is best for David. As David grows, Cherie all of a sudden becomes irrational, irritable, and self-involved and as the book goes on she is clearly classified as toxic character. However, David’s other girlfriend is also very selfish and mostly unsupportive, yet somehow she is classified as a good influence. At the beginning of the novel David’s father Eddy relates everything that he is told to the war, especially small and trivial things like the dryness of a certain kind of biscuit. This seems overdramatized and annoying, and yet when David grows up he begins to analyze his surroundings, in particularly women, in the same paranoid and petulant manner and this turns David into a disagreeable character.  

               It is clear to me that the story could have been better portrayed if the writing had been more accomplished. A lot of the action was confusing, for instance a scene in which someone sits down next to someone else, and two sentences later the other person has been walking around and is being asked to sit down. The dialogue is also faithful to New Zealand speech in the sense that it uses kiwi vocabulary and the recognizable question tag at the end of a sentence, but as every other sentence in dialogue ends with a question, it becomes quite aggravating and deters the pace of the prose.

               Professional editing would have been a great help to this book. The ending also confuses a bit the purpose of the book, as it could have been to demonstrate relationships of people with undiagnosed mental illness, or might as well have been to showcase petty triumphs of one girlfriend over an ex-girlfriend. The lack of clear communication between characters makes it hard to emphasize with any of them and David’s motives become entangled and unclear.

               I don’t believe that this is a well-written book, but I do think that if anyone is trying to find some insight as to how to cope with the influence of an unbalanced loved one can likely find some resonance in this story. 

Reviewed by

Book editor, freelance content writer, and translator with a literature MA. I'm passionate about all kinds of literature and art. I enjoy editing, reading, and writing creative and informative content to the best of my abilities. Originality, insight, and entertainment are priorities for me. #Scifi

Chapter 1

About the author

As a novelist I am particularly interested in family relationships and how they affect the balances in the family system. My father, fractured by war, returned home wanting to marry, raise a family and be a reliable breadwinner but he drank heavily until I was 13 view profile

Published on October 01, 2018

Published by

70000 words

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by