Waugh, Evelyn. Sword of Honor. New York: Back Bay Books, 2012.
Sword of Honor is Evelyn Waugh’s World War II trilogy, ending in Unconditional Surrender. It’s hard to explain why this is a great book. It isn’t exciting. It isn’t even happy. Although it is about war, there is little blood. Sex is vaguely implied but nothing more. I think its greatness lies in the fact that Waugh writes with an absolute command of the language and pacing of the story. It is beautifully sad. It is sad without being depressing.
Guy Crouchback, the protagonist, is the last scion of an ancient Catholic family in England (although he is currently living in Italy at the start of the war). By the time of the third volume
Waugh also alerts us to the Communist threat by the end of the war, yet not in a way that can be dismissed as alarmist. Even though Hitler lost the war, the clear winner was not Churchill, but Stalin. Nonetheless, the Communist actors in the book are rather pitiful, even if their masters are not.
Some Communists, such as Ludovic, are hilariously pathetic. Others, like the Allied Partisans in Yugoslavia, are diabolical (and Waugh’s brilliance is on full display in portraying them as they were).
The book does end with redemption, but not on whom you would expect. We shall end this review with excerpts of Waugh’s prose:
“Fido stood at the parting of the ways. Behind him lay a life of blameless professional progress; before him the proverbial alternatives: the steep path of duty and the heady precipice of sensual appetite. It was the first great temptation of Fido’s life. He fell.”