To say that Andy McNab’s book Last Night Another Soldier… is a quick read is to put it mildly. Short, sharp and to the point it most certainly is. If you are looking for literary or thought provoking prose, look elsewhere. If you are young, (probably) male and inspired by war stories, this is likely to be right up your street. It might not occupy you for an inordinate length of time. Given that Last Night Another Soldier… stands at just one hundred pages of eye-bulgingly large print, you may well spend longer reading this review than you will McNab’s discourse on modern warfare.
McNab does not dally. The action begins on the first page, with “our boys” thrust into a firefight with the Taliban in the rolling poppy fields of Afghanistan, and carries on in much the same vein for the remainder of the novel. Soldier speak abounds – from “aggressive camping” and “T1 casualties” to “scoff” and “blueys”. The author might be trying to take his reader inside the minds of his characters but, equally, one could decide that this is merely a superficial device to try and lend a little gravitas to his writing. Indeed, despite the attempt to establish a veneer of authenticity, the dialogue is frequently laboured. It is hard to imagine anyone in any walk of life uttering the words “Wind your neck in…Who do you think you are? Schwarzenegger, the Terminator?” Indeed, such clumsy cultural references abound – Hollyoakes, Richard & Judy, FHM, Zoo, and a catalogue of popular cultural references are press ganged into action to make the squaddies appear just like you and me. But that’s about as philosophical as things get. McNab certainly does not overburden us with angst or tortured soul-bearing.
Realistic, unsentimental but lacking polish or depth, Last Night Another Soldier is about as far removed from classic literary explorations of the conditions of war such as Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 or Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five as it is possible to be. But then again, McNab’s novel neither sets out to change our minds nor to make the case for war. Instead, McNab gives us a sense of modern day warfare and the reasons soldiers are still willing to fight. As the narrator “Briggsy” comments: “soldiers don’t fight for queen and country, like they say on the telly. They fight for each other.”
This is a straightforward war story which could come from any era; it’s just the means of killing and the arena of war that has changed. Indeed, the novel may be met with nostalgia by a certain generation brought up on Commando comics in the 1960s and 1970s. The stories stay the same, only the genre changes.
As a work of literature, Last Night Another Soldier… is forgettable. But World Book Night is about the pleasure of reading, and there can be no denying that an audience exists for this type of book. So perhaps it’s better just to appreciate this book for what it is, and not expect it to question too many ideologies. After all, soldiers don’t ask why, they just want to know what they have to do next.