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New Model Army by Adam Roberts

1/07/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy New Model Army in the USA - or Buy New Model Army in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 281 page enlarged paperback. Price: 12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08361-5.

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The biggest triumph of Adam Roberts' new novel 'New Model Army' is that he has written a literary and engrossing book despite the narrator. The story is told as an account for his interrogators by Tony Block, a member of the New Model Army. He makes a couple of comments early on about not knowing how to write a novel and then frequently questions himself as to whether the account is making sense. He switches between recounting his time in the army, flashing back to earlier incidents that relate to the current narrative, comments on what happened, recollections of conversations with his interrogators about all three, rambling justifications and moralisations, and deep introspection. Although this sound dreadfully fragmentary, it is all woven together to progress the plot, albeit with frustrating slowness in parts where the rambling goes on for several pages.

Tony Block also talks like an ordinary man on the street rather than an author. He doesn't describe actions, people or scenery in the carefully thought out way a writer would. His descriptions are full of unlikely similes drawn from everyday life and make for a unique reading experience. 'Marmalade coloured bricks', 'spiky yellow flame like Bart's haircut', and lots of other references to popular culture that would normally be difficult to get away with.

The plot is about a New Model Army, basically a mercenary force built around democracy. There is no hierarchy or huge support system, but each soldier is linked in to their 'wiki' communication system - providing individual intel, suggestions and expertise and voting on significant strategic decisions. The way this works is expounded through the action parts of the narrative, interspersed with expositions from the narrator.

The satire is evident from the start and almost overwhelming in places. The battle scenes flow into the aftermath and then periods where Tony Block attempts, briefly to live a normal life. The psychological effects of his job as a soldier or maybe of earlier events that steered him to that profession are woven throughout the narrative to paint the picture of a tough yet fragile character. This is an interesting book in both style and content and certainly stands out from the crowd.

Gareth D. Jones

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