Alamein

Written by Iain Gale
Review by Martin Bourne

Alamein is a novel based on the famous battle in 1942, often (if inaccurately) called the turning-point of World War II. We follow the ten-day-long struggle through the experiences of a variety of real individuals, who between them offer a cross-section of those taking part.

Unfortunately, the individual parts don’t gel together very well. The use of real-life characters constrains the story to what they actually did. Some of them inevitably get more involved and are more fully developed than others, so it all gets very uneven. Very few of the characters actually meet, and so we end up with a series of short stories rather than a coherent novel.

I also spotted quite a few inaccuracies, particularly with the equipment. It is the Germans, not the British, who used 88mm guns, for example. The situation map at the start doesn’t show all of the terrain features or units that are referenced, the various military operations are poorly explained, and because this is combined with the bitty nature of the book it can get very confusing trying to follow what is happening. Not that this matters much, as the description of the fighting is always the same. The first time we read of someone being blown to bits or having a shell splinter slice into their heads it is shocking. By the twentieth time it has lost all effect, which is both bad writing and a disservice to the soldiers who were involved.

On the plus side, it is very easy to read, and for once the Italians are not stereotyped as cowards or incompetents. Really though, if you wanted an exciting and tense story about Alamein, you would be better off with a good non‑fiction book.