The Naked and the Dead

by Norman Mailer

The Naked and the Dead is a hefty novel concerning how army men of varying rank fight a battle for a fictitious lesser island in the theatre of the Pacific in World War II. The book is segmented into four parts which themselves are punctuated by smaller sections that serve to shake up the otherwise traditional narrative structure. When Norman Mailer wants to give the reader extensive background on a character, he employs a "Time Machine," (yes, that's what it's called). There are also shorter interstitial sections that Mailer, and Greek tragedians too of course, call "Choruses" that suddenly read like the lines of a play. Other than those departures, the body of this novel is consistently composed of a stark balancing act between erudite narration and troglodytic dialogue. This contrast, while nothing new in the world of writing, is striking enough in its reliable juxtaposition to draw attention to itself. Thus Classic Bitch is commenting on it here.

There are things in The Naked and the Dead you might expect from a war story. Those long stretches of monotony punctuated by brief but intense passages of horror? Yep, they're in there. The absolute dearth of female characters except in the memories of male characters? Check. Misogyny? Also, check. (It's only a slight exaggeration when I tell you that the only women mentioned are remembered as either cheaters, bitches, whores, or frigid; mothers & daughters excepting, of course.)

Then again, there are refreshing angles to be found here. Mailer renders every single death that takes place in The Naked and the Dead as hauntingly feckless. As a result, there are zero "heroes" to be found within these pages. Whether this is an honest or accurate snapshot of war or not, it's pretty bold for a book that Time magazine ends up calling the, "Best novel yet about World War II." Additionally this book, written over 60 years ago, makes you realize that the plot of The Hurt Locker, (a movie that at this writing has just won a BAFTA and a WGA for Best "Original" Screenplay & which is currently nominated in the same category for an Oscar and will probably win) is nothing new under the sun.

This project warrants a comparison of The Naked and the Dead and From Here to Eternity, the other War-in-the-Pacific novel on the list thus far. More of the narrative of the former is devoted to the physical actions of the characters & the mechanics of battle. More of the narrative of the latter is concentrated on the inner life of the characters & the mechanics of psychology. Make a note of it, decide which kind of war novel you prefer, and then pick up the book you think you might be more engaged by. But know that they are both great reads & come highly recommended by Classic Bitch.