Harry Parker was a Rifleman and his extraordinary debut novel, Anatomy of a Soldier, lives up to the finest traditions of his regiment. Innovative, intelligent and powerfully effective, the Rifles have always been a proud breed apart from the rest of the British Army, noted for their conscious rejection of stylised, antiquarian tradition and their overbearing discipline in pursuit of excellence; they are famed as ‘thinking’ soldiers, trained to do everything that is necessary and nothing that is not.
Perhaps only a Rifleman could have written such an impressive, starkly different take on conflict. Certain elements are familiar: the dusty Afghan patrol bases; the visceral excitement of the firefight followed by the hollowing comedown; the loneliness of command and the curious, fierce love of fighting men for each other. But Parker’s decision to tell the story from the multiple perspectives of forty-five inanimate objects is as innovative as the first green jackets must have seemed on the battlefield. It makes for a rightly unsettling read.
That’s in part because the novel is not, at heart, about soldiers and fighting as much as the devastating effects of war. It centres on the horrific injury and painful rehabilitation of Captain Tom Barnes, who loses both his legs to an improvised explosive device. The book unfolds disparately around