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Review: "The Return of the Soldier" by Rebecca West

The Return of the Soldier may be downloaded for free from our ebook catalog. Cover art is by Janice Tarver, for sale at Etsy.

The Return of the Soldier is the First World War I novel written by a woman. I suspect that it might also be the first novel that explores the psychological aspect of the casualties of war. The story is simple; the problems it deals with are not.

A British officer returns home from the front physically sound but suffering from amnesia brought on by shell shock. His memory loss wipes out the past 15 years of his life during which he married a society beauty, Kitty, and had a son who died in infancy. In Captain Baldry’s mind, he is still courting Margaret who has since become a drab suburban housewife. Reunited with Margaret, he still sees her in his mind's eye as the young maiden he loved then lost over a petty quarrel. Because of the unusual circumstances and her enduring love for Baldry, Margaret enters into this charade in hopes of helping him regain his memory.

Although Kitty and Baldry’s cousin (the story’s narrator) have consulted several specialists on the Captain’s behalf, none has been able to effect a change. Almost out of options, they hear of a specialist who has been effective in treating others with amnesia. Once she hears the possibility of a cure, our narrator--who has grown to know and appreciate Margaret--begins to wonder whether a “cure” is the best thing for Baldry at this time.

Is Baldry’s attachment to the selfless Margaret such a bad thing in view of their mutual happiness? Once cured, will the Captain return to the hell of war, which damaged his mind in the first place? Is Kitty aware that this cure will separate her and Baldry physically, this time perhaps permanently? The story asks more questions than it answers, but the reader can infer what happens and whether the ending is indeed the best possible scenario.

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