The British author Georgina Harding has published three acclaimed novels—The Solitude of Thomas Cave, The Spy Game, and Painter of Silence. Her latest, The Gun Room (Bloomsbury, 224 pp., $26), takes a proud place with the previous books. I find no evidence that Harding has any military background, but there is a lot of the Vietnam War in this novel, and no noticeable clunkers.
The main character is Jonathan, a young British photographer with a farming background who hitches a ride out to the war on a helicopter and blunders onto a My Lai-type massacre in a village. He takes a photograph of an American soldier sitting staring into space. This photo ends up on magazine covers as an iconic image of the Vietnam War.
The war follows Jonathan around for the rest of the story, even to Japan, where he goes to take more pictures and where he falls in love with a Japanese girl named Kimiko. She helps him come to terms with the war, but he then connects with the soldier he’d photographed in Vietnam.
Jonathan flees back to the farm in England, and tries to put the war behind him. But the reader senses that he will always be scarred by his brief time in the Vietnam War—and by his choice to take the photographs he took.
No novel I have read better describes how powerful the memory of war can become entrenched in the mind of a young man. I loved the book and how free of the usual clichés it was. John Wayne’s name, for one thing, is never mentioned.
This is a fresh imagining of the American war in Vietnam, and it is much needed.
Thank you, Georgina Harding, for this fine book. Buy it and read it.