The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane — just odd enough.
Well here’s a classic. One of those books you see in cheap anonymous editions in supermarkets and book shops. Out of copyright, low-grade editions flanged together on the cheap by various publishers you’ve never heard of. It’s famous. How’s it to read?
The story is subtitled ‘an episode of the American civil war’ and it is in essence ‘young man learns lesson’. He learns how he will cope in a fight, and it’s not all good news. Shame, fear, braggadocio, boredom.
Our protagonist is mostly referred to as ‘the youth’, and the author gets close to him but dissects him dispassionately at the same time. It means that the tone of the book takes a little getting used to, but it works very well.
The story is leavened by flashes of wit and neat turns of phrase from the author.
He made a fine use of the third person.
He evidently complimented himself on the modesty of this statement.
Some in the regiment began to whoop frenziedly. Many were silent. Apparently they were trying to contemplate themselves.
He had performed his mistake in the dark, so he was still a man.
The youth’s friend had a geographical illusion concerning a stream…
The forest made a tremendous objection.
He had continued to curse, but it was now with the air of a man who was using his last box of oaths.
But I must advise no one to buy the edition illustrated above, It is one of the most carelessly put together volumes I have ever seen. Here is the contents page:
…and I think you’ll agree it is of doubtful utility. More to the point, the book is full of typographical errors, including ‘rig2ht’ and ‘allusions’ for ‘illusions’ and the like. Most importantly, it drops two paragraphs from possibly the most crucial section of the book, such that the main character suddenly has a wound on his head and I can’t tell how. I spent a good half hour flipping through the book trying to work out when it had happened and assuming I had been distracted while reading and had not noticed; only recourse to another edition, a good one put out by a reputable publisher, was able to confirm that bits were missing.
To sum up: I can recommend this book, but not in this edition.