The latest in our series of fine Transition Year Extended Essays is by Shannen Keogan, who chose 'conflict' as her theme, and as her books Primo Levi's If This is A Man/The Truce, Ian McEwan's Atonement, and Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way.
Shannen writes:- Primo Levi’s If this is a man-The Truce is definitely the most descriptive novel I have ever read. When I was reading the novel I was really able to imagine what it must have been like to be imprisoned somewhere like Auschwitz. He accounts everything with such clarity and it is clear that it was such a major experience in his life. He has remembered everything - the numbers of the huts he stayed in and their names, the names of every man he ever met or spoke to and he also remembers every single detail of what happened while he was there. Primo Levi explains in depth what being forced to live in those horrible conditions does to you and he gives us an extraordinary insight into the lives of the people who were displaced there in the Second World War.
Ian McEwan’s writing is completely different to this. He mainly dedicates the novel to Robbie’s experiences at War but also merges this with Robbie’s feelings to return to Cecilia. I think this is very clever. His descriptions of scenes and emotions are of a very high standard and quality but in comparison to If this is a man-The Truce, I thought they were weak and the writing lacked a little intensity as I didn’t feel as horrified or appalled by the conflict like I did in Primo Levi’s book. In saying that, I do think that Ian McEwan is an excellent writer. I thought the ending of his novel was very clever and worthwhile; he leaves the fate of the characters to the reader’s imagination, which is what I think, makes it such a wonderful novel.
Sebastian Barry also has an exceptionally wonderful style of writing. He describes scenes and emotions to a very high standard also but, I don’t think his descriptions are of as high a standard to those of Primo Levi's. He didn’t describe certain scenes with the intensity and emotion that Levi describes scenes. In saying that he writes in a style which compels you to read more and more and I found it very hard to put the novel down. Although it is a grim War story, I sometimes did find some of the chapters quite humorous. Sebastian Barry really brings true Irish humour into the novel, as even though they are fighting in a War there are a few rare moments of laughter amongst the soldiers. This really does make the novel much easier to read and lightens the mood a little.
Read Shannen's full essay here.