A Life of Choice: Part One – Book Review
A Life of Choice by Tom Benson is the first part of a five part series about a young recruit to the Royal Corps of Signals of the British Army. There are many authors who have drawn on their past military experience to write both fictional and non-fiction accounts of their military careers and quite a few who have relied purely on research and their imagination. Quite often, though by no means always, such books will either lack the authenticity of genuine military experience or be steeped in realism and authenticity yet be let down by the execution of the writing. A Life of Choice falls into neither category having been written by a man with not only over twenty years experience as a soldier but who has also been perfecting his writing skills for nearly the past ten years, having read and written in multiple genres. Regular readers of my blog will know from past posts that as well as being a prolific writer, book reviewer in his own right, and contributor to a number of online writing groups but is now an Admin for the Indie Author Support & Discussion site, highlighting and supporting new and established Indie authors. In addition to his own short story collections, Tom Benson has had short stories published in a number of other author’s collections too:
Further links to Tom Benson’s writing:
A teenager feels there must be more to life than a dead-end office job and no social life. During his lunch-break one day in 1969, while walking the city streets, he stops to look at the pictures in an Army Careers Information Office window. How far might he go?
A Life of choice: Part One
By Tom Benson
(Available from Amazon in eBook format)
From what I understand this is the first of several parts to an ongoing saga of the life of a young serviceman. When Jim Falkner joins the Royal Corps of Signals he does so as a shy and quiet teenager with little experience of the world beyond his native Glasgow. Through this story the reader is immersed in the young would-be soldier’s training and those first tentative friendships formed, many of which would last a lifetime. It’s often claimed by those who served that joining the army is what made a man of them, and for many that’s true but what the author shows with equal emphasis is that it can just as easily lead to ruination; just as the young Jim Falkner grows in confidence and into the man and soldier he wants to be, we also see the him being drawn into the services drinking culture and hints at the problems that might bring with it in later years. There is also an excellent preface and first chapter that proceeds the start of our young character’s military career portraying a family background and life that might well have played a part in Jim Falkner’s decision to join the British Army, a background that was indeed shared at least in parts my many of the young recruits of the day.
Written in the first person, the story has very personal feel to it, enabling the reader to get to know Jim as a real flesh and blood person rather simply as a well-constructed character. The dialogue is entirely natural and the chronological way in which it’s portrayed and divided into twelve easily digestible chapters makes the story fluid and easy to read. There are many good things about being in the army as the author clearly shows but he doesn’t shy away from the negatives and hardships along the way. Another thing that impressed me was the author’s honesty in the events he portrays; he doesn’t exaggerate or sensationalise in pursuit of a more exciting or gripping story or try to give the impression that Jim is on course to be another Andy McCabe or other such well known military figure.
Although this is a fictional portrayal of Jim Falkner’s early military training and experiences, the author has drawn heavily on both his own life and those of his immediate comrades of the time, making ‘A Life of Choice’ as authentic as any entirely factual biography. I was pleased to discover when reading this that it wasn’t just another ‘pull up a sandbag’ type account relying on the legendary squaddie humour and colourful language for it entertainment but actually a thoughtful and well-written account of those times; yes those elements are present but they are not exaggerated or over-emphasised, though when they are alluded to it’s done to perfection…
“… The creases in his green denim trousers were sharper than the razor I’d used only the day before for the first time…”
“… Where I came from a steam iron was used to settle domestic disagreements…”
Anyone who has served as a regular in the army, or even one of the other services will from the beginning see familiar elements of themselves and their own experiences and might well read this like a trip down memory lane, bringing back happy and sometimes not so happy times. For others, particularly those who may have had or have friends or family who served, this book provides an honest and, true to military life, humorous insight into army training and life and just a few of the many colourful characters. Beyond that though this is also a compelling coming of age story, of the journey from boy to man, accelerated by intense military training along with all the usual landmark experiences of a young man growing up fast – being away from home for the first time, the pain of first love and its loss, learning to drive (in a land rover as opposed to the usual little bubble type cars that most people learn to drive in), and trying to fit in with his peers and all the pitfalls that entails. The heart of this story commences from 1969 through to 1971 when the army then was a very different thing to what it is today, and again, Tom Benson portrays that here to perfection. By the end of this first instalment, Jim Falkner has long since completed his basic training and is now a fully-fledged Signalman en-route to his first overseas posting to Germany. I look forward to reading of his further training and adventures…
Further works from Tom Benson: For further information on any of these books please click on the link to the author’s Amazon Author page:
Short story collections: