Wednesday April 7th, 2010

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

matterhornMarlantes, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, wrote this novel over the course of 30 years. It follows a company of Marines as they build an outpost on the titular hilltop, abandon it for other duties, and then retake it. Several reviewers of the novel have spent time in the military, or have covered it as journalists. In the New York Times Book Review, Sebastian Junger wrote: “[Marlantes] seems like a man whose life was radically altered by war, and who now wants to pass along the favor. And with a desperate fury, he does. Chapter after chapter, battle after battle, Marlantes pushes you through what may be one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam — or any war. It’s not a book so much as a deployment, and you will not return unaltered.” According to Junger, even the book’s hurdles, like “a blizzard of names, ranks and military terms,” enhance it: “That confusion . . . was exactly my experience while covering the United States military as a journalist, and in Matterhorn it struck me as annoying but true.”

In the Washington Post, David Masiel, a former Merchant Marine, writes: “Given the long list of stellar works, fiction and nonfiction, to come from the Vietnam experience, one might question what more can be said about it. In some ways Matterhorn isn’t new at all, but it reminds us of the horror of all war by laying waste to romantic notions and napalming the cool factor of video games and ‘Generation Kill.’”

At the Barnes & Noble Review, David Abrams says the book “puts the reader in the thick of combat like few others I’ve read.” But he doesn’t think the novel is perfect:

While Marlantes is skilled at conducting large battle scenes, he sometimes falls short at the level of his sentences. One wishes he would relax enough to trust the reader; instead, he (or his editors) feels the need to define every acronym and military term as they appear in the narrative — despite the fact that there is a 30-page glossary at the end of the novel. . . . But once he hits his stride (and most of the military jargon has been exhaustively defined), Marlantes displays all the confidence of a veteran who knows what he’s talking about.

You can watch Marlantes talk about writing the book here.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Atlantic Monthly Press, 592 pp., $24.95