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Worthless Men

Andrew Cowan

8 Reviews

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Fiction, Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945), Historical fiction

A novel about the First World War that is as mesmerising as it is unusual, a triumphant new work by one of the most acclaimed writers of the 90s.

It's market day in an English city two years into the Great War. The farmers are coming in from the country, the cattle are being driven through the streets and that evening a trainload of wounded soldiers is due to arrive.

At the local mansion, its new hospital tents to the ready, waits Montague Beckwith, himself a psychological casualty of the war. In the town's poorest quarter, Winnie Barley prays that Walter, her missing son, will be on the train (but that her violent husband is not). In the pharmacy, Gertie Dobson dreams of romance while her father keeps unsuitable men at bay. And everywhere is Walter, a ghostly presence who watches as the girl he loved from a distance is drawn into Montague's orbit.

Weaving together multiple viewpoints, Andrew Cowan creates a panoramic, extraordinarily vivid portrait of a place as individual as it is archetypal. Here is a community where the war permeates high and low; where the factory now produces barbed wire, the women are doing the men's jobs, and the young men are no longer so eager to answer the King's call. And here is the tragic story of a casual betrayal, and a boy who proved that those at the bottom of the heap - the worthless ones - could be the most valiant of them all.

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Praise for Worthless Men

  • A brilliant novel, original, powerfully written, and very moving - John Boyne

  • Distinguished by its remarkable close focus on life in Britain and the families back home. From multiple viewpoints, Cowan - a highly talented but still under-recognised novelist - follows working-class teenager Walter, troubled officer Montague, and the girl who attracts them both, beautiful Gertie, the daughter of their local chemist-cum-vet-cum-abortionist. Both Montague and Gertie's father have a keen amateur interest in "eugenical science", which held out a crazed initial hope that the war would be good for the fitness of the species . . . memorable for its time-travelling density of period evocation - Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

  • Provincial realism it may be; to suggest it's nothing special is too modest by half. - Guardian

  • A wonderful and moving book, wholly original in its treatment of the war's bleak surrealism. I was completely transported. It's sensuous and funny and somehow manages never to be moralising. - Tessa Hadley

  • Cowan's serious-minded project suggests, intriguingly, an un-spoken truth - that the lack of all those young soldiers on the home front meant a calmer, saner society . . . Yet this is no romanticised history - Cowan never lets us forget the earthy truths of life - Jonathan Barnes, Literary Review

  • Andrew Cowan's fifth novel takes a loud subject - the First World War; its casualties and the disastrous effect it has on an English town - and quietens it with detail . . . it is heartening to see a writer with several books behind him take a risk. - Lesley McDowell, Glasgow Herald

  • Packed with beautiful period details . . . His style is creative but the creativity serves the story and there's never the feeling, as can be the case, of the style getting in the way of the lives of these people. The result is a haunting, and often moving, record of life in a market town during the Great War. - Bookbag

  • His voices ring so true they break your heart. This novel has the feel of an elegiac poem and is an absolute delight to read. - We Love This Book

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Andrew Cowan

Andrew Cowan was born in Corby and educated at the University of East Anglia. Pig, his first novel, won The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, a Betty Trask Award, the Ruth Hadden Memorial Prize, the Author's Club First Novel Award and a Scottish Council Book Award. He is also the author of the writing guidebook The Art of Writing and three other novels: Common Ground, Crustaceans and What I Know. He is the Director of the Creative Writing programme at UEA.

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