“Now All Roads Lead To France” by Matthew Hollis

Date finished: 5th February 2012

This book was a departure from my usual reading, but a very welcome one. My knowledge of the First World War is very sketchy and I’ve never really got to grips with poetry, but for some reason I was drawn to this biography looking at the final years of the British poet Edward Thomas who died in WWI. The book covers the period from 1913 to his death in 1917, and more than just look at Thomas’s life, it also looks at the literary scene in London at that time. The main story, though, is Thomas’s friendship with American poet Robert Frost, and Thomas’s transition from reviewer and writer of prose to arguably one of the most influential poets of his generation.

This was a fascinating book, and so well written, bringing to life the man and his family and friends, and often focusing on the influence that his great friendship with Frost had on his life. It’s not always an easy read – his bouts of depression and the measures he takes to cope with his relationships with his family are often hard and I felt desperately sorry for Helen, his wife, at times, although she comes across as a very strong woman, who learned to cope in her own accepting way.

As someone who doesn’t read (and on the odd occasion I do, understand) poetry, I was still fascinated during the sections covering the change taking place in the style of verse being written by the new poets of the era, such as Frost, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wilfred Owen and W. B. Yeats. Thomas’s transition to poet was fairly sudden, and ran alongside his ongoing battle with the decision of whether to enlist after the outbreak of the war, but once he had taken the step to become a poet, his poetry seemed to flow almost immediately.

I could go on writing for pages, so I’ll just finish by saying that I rarely finish a biography if I start one, I’ll repeat that I don’t read poetry, and again that I know very little about WWI, but this book was fascinating from start to finish, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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