Friday, April 17, 2009

Nashville 1864 by Madison Jones

Madison Jones isn’t particularly well known for writing historical novels. Apart from Nashville 1864, I’m only aware of one other, although I haven’t researched it and I may be wrong on that. That said, it’s interesting that the language in this novel is actually more accessible, and feels more modern, than much of the rest of Jones’s work.

That isn’t to say his writing is generally difficult. Far from it, at its best there has always beens a lovely purity and simplicity to his prose. It’s more that his earlier work is suffused with a kind of Faulknerian ambiguity where everything is allusion and undertone and inference: clarity of language, but not of meaning. With Nashville 1864, however, Jones’s language is limpid and crisp and beautifully clear and so is his meaning.

Indeed, the most striking thin about this novella is its sheer lack of artifice. There is no false drama, no drawing out of the emotions, no toying with the reader. Wherever Jones could have gone for a big bang or a grand gesture or a dramatic plot twist, he pulls back. When Yankee soldiers arrive and things threaten to become nasty, the danger subsides naturally. When the boys get trapped behind battle lines they find, not doom, but solicitous care. Characters are not caricatures: no-one is out-and-out bad or out-and-out good because he is standing representative of one side or another; there are good Yankees and bad Rebs here, and all of them are merely trying to survive.

The simplicity of the narrative serves to give it strength. When tragedy does strike it hurts more deeply because we haven’t already been pulled towards artificial heights of fear by twists and turns of narrative: there is no crying wolf in this novel, so when the metaphorical wolf attacks its bite is grave indeed. It feels entirely believable. The mystified, uncomprehending fear of the eleven year old protagonist is entirely realistic and one feels for him deeply.

Just 129 pages long, Madison Jones has turned out a war novel which is beautiful, thoughtful and deeply moving.

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