BOOK REVIEW: Walking Wounded

By Sheila Llewellyn

waling wounded

“Daniel stared at the white-ish brain matter clinging to the haft and clogging up the eye of the needle. Can it really be as easy as that – to scrape out someone’s depression, their melancholy, their anxiety? To scrape out someone’s emotions?”

So assured is Sheila Llewellyn’s writing, one would never guess Walking Wounded was her first novel. Her portrayal of the emotional devastation caused by armed conflict, and the often unintentional misery brought about by misguided attempts to repair the damage is staggeringly accomplished.

Set in Birmingham’s once highly influential Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital, it is tempting to conclude we are entering Pat Barker terrain – a writer well known for focusing on themes of memory, trauma, survival and recovery. Like Barker, the author has an uncanny ability to evoke the appalling mental anguish induced by war, she is seemingly able to fathom the suppressed male subconscious, and many of her characters are based on historic figures – but there the similarities end.

Inspired by her own experience of treating victims of PTSD in Northern Ireland, the author’s narrative switches back and forth between the fictitious characters: psychiatrist Daniel Carter and Corporal David Reece. It is 1947 and both doctor and patient have been profoundly damaged by their ordeals, but they also have the subliminal power to heal one another.

From the morale-destroying Burma Campaign to life in the old industrial city of Manchester (just before and immediately after the Second World War), Llewellyn’s historical and topographical research is scrupulous yet subtle. Speaking personally, as the daughter of a Mancunian who lived through the period described in this novel, I find her descriptions of the Manchester Blitz, and of The Manchester Guardian’s candid reporting of the Nazi atrocities, particularly fascinating

Walking Wounded is a brilliantly crafted, often harrowing, powerfully intense piece of work, which deserves to win awards. I hope very much that Sheila Llewellyn plans to write a second novel.

Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for gifting an advance copy of this title.

Categories: Book Reviews, British Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

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16 replies

  1. I drove past the old hospital buildings only this afternoon. I had no idea that it had served in this way during the war. I am very tempted to read this, but if it deals with Burma in any detail I would find it hard; my dad was a FEPOW and it is a difficult subject even now.

    • hello, this is Sheila Llew here – thank you so much for taking the time to respond to this thoughtful review of my book – my father was also in the Burma campaign,and I have his journal and poems and letters home. He was lucky enough not to be taken prisoner, I’m sad to hear that your father wasn’t so fortunate. He never talked about the war, until one or two of our last conversations together, but he did say then that being captured was what the men who fought there for over three and a half years were most terrified might happen to them – as did a lot of the men whose experiences I researched at the Imperial war Museum. I was so conscious of readers who may have a personal connection with fathers or grandfathers who fought in all the theatres of war in the second world war, not just Burma, and hope I treated the men’s experiences with respect. The book is not so much about what happened to the soldiers when they were fighting, although there are some depictions of events, but rather about what the effects of fighting in war over a prolonged period does to human beings and how they find it so difficult to adapt when they come home, something that resonates with us today, more’s the pity. And it’s about the kind of psychological treatments available to them if they spent time in military hospitals. Mostly, though, it’s about one young man’s story of what he went through, what he lost because he was sent off to war, and what happened when he came back.
      Thanks again for your comments, I really appreciate it.

      • Hello Sheila, Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to Ann’s message. I believe ‘Walking Wounded’ is due for release towards the end of this month. I sincerely hope you have success with this novel, it would certainly be deserved. I would also like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to review the ARC – it got my reading year off to a splendid start! Best wishes, Paula

    • Hello Ann, I did respond to your comment but have only just noticed that I sent it as a new post rather than a reply. Many apologies. My message is below if you haven’t already seen it. Duh!

      • Oh, I’m always doing things like that. Dad was in Korea rather than Burma but the conditions were just as bad. He almost never talked about it but he held no animosity towards the ordinary Japanese soldier, who he said was just doing what he was ordered to just like him.

    • Sounds like your dad was a very decent and forgiving man. Reading ‘Walking Wounded’ opened my eyes to the dreadful state the Japanese soldiers were in towards the end. Don’t you just wish the world would learn from history and find means other than war to settle its differences?

      • He was the best, Paula. Unfortunately, it seems that each generation has to learn the futility of war for itself. I wish it was otherwise but ……

  2. I’m sure you would enjoy Walking Wounded, especially with your connections to the area and some of the subject matter – I particularly enjoyed the parts set in Manchester because my maternal family were Mancunians. There are some upsetting sections concerning Burma and the suffering of one character in particular because of his experiences over there, but the novel is so well written and (not wishing to give anything away) there are many positives to be taken from the story. I hope this helps a little.

  3. Sounds too sad to be the escapism I normally seek, but it sounds like a magnificent book.

    • Many thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. It is certainly sad in parts and quite upsetting at times, but it is nevertheless a superbly written and very well researched book. You’re quite right, though, it’s not something you should choose to read if you’re seeking escapism.

  4. Welcome to Smorgasbord and what a great review of your first book. One I think my husband may love to read 🙂 Happy New Year 🙂


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