Worthless Men, Hardback Book
3 out of 5 (1 rating)


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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Worthless Men is a story of some of the residents of a city in 1916 (although it felt more like a village to me). Soldiers are due back on a train, Gertie Dobson, the daughter of the pharmacist, is dreaming again, Walter Barley is wandering around in a ghostly manner, and his mother, Winnie, is wishing for his return from the war.This book had a big appeal for me. It's very much a social history, with the intricate details of life, work and relationships being portrayed strongly, but it did read a bit like a work of non-fiction for the most part. It was obviously full of fact and well-researched but I think I would have liked a bit more feeling and perhaps more dialogue. It's a short book (259 pages) but the kind that can take ages because of the need to read every single word.I thought this was a good bit of writing, and yet it left me totally unmoved by any of the characters or the stories. I wonder if people who normally read a lot of non-fiction would enjoy it more. Personally I want to engage with characters more.

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