Russell Celyn Jones: Soldiers and Innocents
A short but intense novel about being a man and masculine values. Evan is from the Welsh valleys and his father, Reynold, was a miner, a boxer, a rugby player and was involved in the Aberfan disaster. The pits are closing and, like his father, Evan has joined the paratroopers. Reynold was involved in a clean war – World War II in the Libyan desert. Evan is involved in a dirty war, the war in Northern Ireland. Framing the story is an incident that we later learn will cause Evan to desert from the army. His patrol – he is the captain – stakes out a farmhouse for two days. They see movement and a young soldier fires his gun. The others join in. At the end they find that a tinker woman was helping her daughter give birth. The daughter has been shot and the baby is stillborn. The end frame will see Evan leaving his patrol to follow the tinker woman and, inadvertently, be present at her death (by suicide).
Most of the book is taken up with Evan on the run. His first act is to kidnap his young son, Terence, from Celia, his estranged wife. They live with Colin, an old army friend who lives on a boat but are constantly on the run from the military police. Evan ends up at his father’s house in the Welsh valleys. He has not visited the place nor, indeed, had any contact with his father or his sisters (his mother died when he was young) since he left to join the army ten years previously but cannot connect with his father who sees him as having let down the family and his own values and turns him in. Evan and Terence escape but Evan knows he cannot continue. He returns Terence to his mother and returns to his father, only to find thatt he has died. At the funeral he turns himself in to the military police.
Jones tells a good tale, full of intensity and passion and superbly written. His story is about masculine values and the challenge that they face in the modern world. Being a soldier in Northern Ireland, while still requiring toughness and bravery, is not the same as fighting the Germans in World War II and Evan’s faith in the army and its values is shattered when the tinker girl is killed. He tries hard to be a father to Terence – something he has failed to do previously – but it is childless Colin who has to teach him how and he knows, ultimately, that he has failed, that the masculine values he has adopted are incompatible with fatherhood and, indeed, the modern world. At the end he is left only with the image of killing and death for that is all he knows.
First published 1990 by Jonathan Cape