Patrick Allington reviews 'Bodies of Men' by Nigel Featherstone

Patrick Allington reviews 'Bodies of Men' by Nigel Featherstone

Bodies of Men

by Nigel Featherstone

Hachette, $32 pb, 326 pp, 9780733640704

From its raw and revelatory prologue, Nigel Featherstone’s novel Bodies of Men offers a thoroughly humanising depiction of Australians during World War II. In telling the story of two soldiers, William – too young to be a corporal – and his childhood friend James, Featherstone reflects upon the brutality, drudgery, and absurdity of war but also on the two men’s love and regard for each other: ‘The private smiles and William allows himself to smile too. Something passes between them: a wish, or an echo, or something beyond a soldier’s imagination.’

Early in the story, William and James engage the enemy, a few Italians scrabbling about in the desert west of the Nile. The scene is a stark glimpse of men fighting men, of William seeking to assert and prove himself, of James’s calmness, and of the reality of death in wartime.

Soon after, William’s superior officer, Captain Bradley Allen, sends William and a small group of men into the desert. There, they sit and wait, practising endless manoeuvres, perhaps to ready them for battle, perhaps to stave off boredom. James, meanwhile, has a motorcycle accident. He winds up badly injured and AWOL in the house of two strangers, Yetta and Ernst, in Alexandria. While grappling with their own wartime worries and secrets, the couple tend to James as he slowly recovers. When William, on leave from the desert, finds James, their childhood bond is renewed and strengthened by their mutual attraction and, soon, their mutual devotion.

Subscribe to ABR

Read the rest of this article by subscribing to ABR Online for as little as $10 a month.

We offer a range of subscription options, including print, which can be found by clicking here. If you are already a subscriber, enter your username and password in the ‘Log In’ section in the top right-hand corner of the screen.

If you require assistance, contact us or consult the Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in August 2019, no. 413
Patrick Allington

Patrick Allington

Patrick Allington was the recipient of the inaugural ABR Patrons’ Fellowship, worth $5000. His novel, Figurehead (Black Inc. 2009), was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. His short fiction and book criticism appears in Australian newspapers, magazines, and journals, including regularly in ABR.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.