Book cover from The Thin Red Line: A Novel by James Jones
Book cover 'The Thin Red Line: A Novel'

The Thin Red Line: A Novel

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Author(s): James Jones
Format: Book › Paperback all formats
Edition: Reprint
Published: 02-09-1998
ISBN: 0385324081
Pages: 510
Publisher: Delta Books
List Price: $17.00

BooksToRead Review

James Jones is one of the great masters of the war novel. He was himself a soldier during World War II and has used his experiences as a basis for various war books he wrote later on. His best-known books are From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. The Thin Red Line is a catchy account of the American conquest of the Guadalcanal islands in World War II. In the story we follow Charlie Company's men (C stands for Charlie) while undergoing their first combat experience with the conquest of the island on the Japanese. What follows is a pervasive picture of what young American men had to endure during the Second World War. The Thin Red Line, the title of the book, symbolizes the small boundary between life and death for the soldiers in the book. Because death can always strike: random, sudden and cruel, no matter who you are or what you are doing at the moment it strikes. Death touches both men who are experienced or inexperienced, men who fight or men who are overcome by fear and can no longer move. A gripping account about war by someone who has experienced it himself.

The Thin Red Line is written in a very unique style and has its very own atmosphere and way of describing the characters. You get to know the various men of Charlie Company, but to a large extent they remain elusive, just like the experience of the war itself. What has been described very well is the feeling of men being caught in a big war machine; caught in a war that happens to them and against which they are powerless. Worried about the perception of others and at the same time being very alone. A gripping read.

Book description

They are the men of C-for-Charlie company—“Mad” 1st Sgt. Eddie Welsh, Pvt. 1st Class Don Doll, Pvt. John Bell, Capt. James Stein, Cpl. Fife, and dozens more just like them—infantrymen who are about to land, grim and white-faced, on an atoll in the Pacific called Guadalcanal. This is their story, a shatteringly realistic walk into hell and back.
 
In the days ahead, some will earn medals, others will do anything they can dream up to get evacuated before they land in a muddy grave. But they will all discover the thin red line that divides the sane from the mad—and the living from the dead—in this unforgettable portrait that captures for all time the total experience of men at war.
 
Foreword by Francine Prose
 
“Brutal, direct, and powerful . . . The men are real, the words are real, death is real, imminent and immediate.”—Los Angeles Times
 
“A rare and splendid accomplishment . . . strong and ambitious, spacious, and as honest as any novel ever written.”—
Newsweek
 
“[A] major novel of combat in World War II . . . reminiscent of Stephen Crane in
The Red Badge of Courage.”—The Christian Science Monitor
 
The Thin Red Line moves so intensely and inexorably that it almost seems like the war it is describing.”—The New York Times Book Review

Book review

"When compared to the fact that he might very well be dead by this time tomorrow, whether he was courageous or not today was pointless, empty. When compared to the fact that he might be dead tomorrow, everything was pointless. Life was pointless. Whether he looked at a tree or not was pointless. It just didn't make any difference. It was pointless to the tree, it was pointless to every man in his outfit, pointless to everybody in the whole world. Who cared? It was not pointless only to him; and when he was dead, when he ceased to exist, it would be pointless to him too. More important: Not only would it be pointless, it would have been pointless, all along."

Such is the ultimate significance of war in The Thin Red Line (1962), James Jones's fictional account of the battle between American and Japanese troops on the island of Guadalcanal. The narrative shifts effortlessly among multiple viewpoints within C-for-Charlie Company, from commanding officer Capt. James Stein, his psychotic first sergeant Eddie Welsh, and the young privates they send into battle. The descriptions of combat conditions--and the mental states it induces--are unflinchingly realistic, including the dialog (in which a certain word Norman Mailer rendered as "fug" 15 years earlier in The Naked and the Dead appears properly spelled on numerous occasions). This is more than a classic of combat fiction; it is one of the most significant explorations of male identity in American literature, establishing Jones as a novelist of the caliber of Herman Melville and Stephen Crane.

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