Five words from the blurb: mother, soldier, Afghanistan, courage, love
I received a review copy of this book last summer, but it didn’t make it to the top of my TBR pile as military stories aren’t normally my thing. Luckily I was persuaded to give it a try by David, one of my regular commenters. He hopes it will make the Baileys’ longlist on Friday and, having now read the book, I agree.
Eleven Days isn’t a typical war novel. It’s a subtle investigation into the mindset of a soldier, showing how the presence of danger affects both those on the battle field and their loved ones many miles away. The book begins in May 2011 with Sara discovering that her son Jason has gone missing during a Special Operations Forces mission in Afghanistan. Through a series of flashbacks the reader discovers Jason’s reasons for joining the Navy and what happened to his father, David. It also shows the mixed emotions of a mother desperate to hear the truth about where her son is.
The writing quality was superb – it captivated me and took me on an emotional roller-coaster, without ever becoming sentimental. Tension was built in a subtle way, but this never felt like the main objective of the book. Instead it questioned the way society thinks about its armed forces; showing a spectrum of opinion through clever use of characters caught in their own uncertain turmoil.
I loved the way this book avoided graphic images of war and violence. Instead it focused on military training, showing how soldiers adapt to harsh environments before heading out to a war zone. The detailed descriptions of US Navy SEAL training were fascinating to read and it was interesting to learn that mental training is given the same priority as physical fitness.
It also perfectly captured the relationship between a mother and her grownup son, showing the difficulty of letting him learn from his mistakes and the grief of no longer being the person in control of his life.
I’ve read lots of war stories, but Lea Carpenter somehow managed to capture a fresh angle on the subject. I made a mistake in leaving it out of my Baileys’ Fiction Prize longlist prediction last week. It deserves to be on the list and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the judges recognise its brilliance.