Reviewed by Paul Kane
Beating for Light
By Geoff Akers
January 2006, ISBN-10: 095474280X, Paperback: 311 pages
Available from Amazon UK (see link below) or www.juniperbooks.co.uk
Geoff Akers’ novel tells the story of Isaac Rosenberg, one of the lesser-known but more interesting poets of the First World War. We follow the poet’s life for virtually the whole of its short duration, beginning with his poverty-stricken childhood in the slums of London’s East End and ending with his death on the battlefields of France in 1918, as the Great War – even now perhaps “the war to end all wars” – staggered to its final unseemly end.
The novel is well-researched and vividly imagined. A great number of Rosenberg’s poems – and some poetic fragments – are given in the novel, and these make his death at a young age all the more poignant. One such poem is the great “Returning, We Hear Larks”, with its sublime final stanza:
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song –
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man’s dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl’s dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.
On reading these lines, one cannot help but wonder (as we wonder also of Keats and Shelley) what else of greatness Rosenberg might have written, had he lived.
This is an extremely well-written and worthwhile work that will appeal especially to those readers who have found tragedy and beauty in Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong or Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. Like these other novels, Beating for Light makes us realise that war – with all its waste, horror and futility – has, too, a human face.
About the reviewer: Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org