In The Wolf's Mouth by Adam Foulds

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In The Wolf's Mouth by Adam Foulds

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Man Booker shortlisted Adam Foulds writes a poetic, powerful and moving account of the Second World War in 'In the Wolf's Mouth'.

Whilst some characters and situations can initially feel samey and cliched, Foulds' excellent writing swiftly subverts expectations and provides a fresh look at a truly horrific time in history.

Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0099586869

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In Sicily, bandits steal the sheep of a young shepherd. Distraught, he seeks out his local Mafioso for help. Sixteen years later, two men are traveling to Sicily - one, a young English officer, and the other an American infantryman. They are all soon thrust into a war that is greater and more terrible than anything they could have dreamed, and they all must find different ways to survive its terrors.

The majority of WWII novels tend to be set either in Germany, Occupied France or in Britain, but 'In the Wolf's Mouth' is mainly set in Sicily, combining the tales of two soldiers with that of a Mafioso and a sheep farmer.

The war novel is a hugely popular type of book - especially given that a century has passed since the beginning of World War I, and over 75 since World War II. They say that war brings out the worst and best in people, and people seem fascinated to read about characters interacting in a period that, in terms of history was relatively recent, and yet for most of us, seems so far from the lives we lead today.

Unfortunately, that does mean that the 'War Novel' market is somewhat over saturated - and it's very difficult indeed to find a book that brings a new angle to proceedings.

'In The Wolf's Mouth' certainly manages it though - the Sicilian setting makes for a pleasant change, and the machinations of the Mafia that run through the whole book, certainly feel fresh when placed in this setting, despite some interactions that feel a little over dramatic and slightly cliched compared to the tone of the book as a whole.

Characters are very well drawn - Will Walker is a young English officer - well mannered, well brought up, and completely unprepared for the horrors of war he begins to face. Likewise, Ray Marfione is an American of Italian origin who dreams of being a writer - but finds his romanticism swiftly challenged by the pain, grief and fear that he comes to know.

The initial part of the novel focuses on a shepherd called Angilu, and his interactions with local mafioso Ciro Albanese, who soon leaves Sicily for New York. This first section is set several years before the war, and initially feels a bit detached from the main story - serving mainly as set up for the political and social landscape of Sicily. It is only when Ciro Albanese returns from New York to Sicily several years later, that the threads really seem to tie together.

Story aside, the language is beautiful - poetic descriptions make the war-torn island a memorable and often chilling place, and the short chapters are filled with glimpses of interesting landscapes, thoughts, characters and moments, all of which make this a book to read and savour slowly.

Marvellously written, 'In the Wolf's Mouth' is not the most stunning or original war novel of recent years, but it is well paced, moving, occasionally humorous, and features paragraphs you will want to read over and over again. In a market that often seems over saturated, Foulds has carefully crafted a very good book indeed, and for me he evokes the horror of war better than most, whilst mainly avoiding the cliches that tend to come with such territory. It's not just the story of a particular time in history, but of the men who were caught up in it - men who were unprepared, ill equipped and all had respective hopes and dreams - yet were willing to lay down their lives to protect their countries and our freedom.

Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

Regeneration by Pat Barker is a fantastic book about the horrors of war. One I was made to read in school, I initially disliked this book, but as I grew older and learnt more about the war, I soon came to realise that this book was moving, informative, and marks the start of a fantastic trilogy.

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