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This is the tale of Charles Marden, an apple grower and judge who sets off from his Vancouver Island home on an impulsive journey to Belgium, where his son, an Allied soldier in the First World War, has just died in battle at the very end of the war. Marden's single-minded mission: finding the exact spot where his son was killed.
Across western Canada the Spanish flu rages—the very disease that claimed Marden's wife three weeks earlier. Upon arriving in England, he learns that his son left behind a pregnant girlfriend. Soon his search widens to include locating the girl, too. Nearing the front lines, Marden seems to descend into the fires of hell as he navigates the mine-strewn killing fields of the trenches, still reeking with poison gas. Will he find the girl, and will he find an answer to the forces that drove him halfway around the world?
A Century of November is being made into a movie. Visit the movie site at: http://acenturyofnovember.com.
". . . an elegant, quiet book. . . . [W]hat we'd have got if Siegfried Sassoon or Rupert Brooke had chosen to write novels rather than poems, but also an intelligent, lyric look back at a time when even the best and brightest of writers were not entirely free to speak their minds. . . . Wetherell's style is spare with an almost soldierly restraint that evokes the period perfectly. . . . Wetherell deploys image and moment with the power of a poet, often compressing his characters' pasts and futures into their present. . . . The greatness of this particular war novel is that Wetherell eschews the big-screen theatrics of generals and advancing armies, focusing instead on the last days and hours of a war, . . . Wetherell's pledge of allegiance is to the truth, and in that country, heroism and sacrifice are real instincts that occur in humanity when the stakes are real; they are not state-controlled commodities to be auctioned off in alliances. . . ."
". . . murderously beautiful. . . . [A Century of November] . . . could be read with advantage today by any young man or woman who would enlist in a war . . . . Although it takes up fewer than 200 pages, [it] possesses a time-bending gravity, like a telegram so heavy it takes two uniformed men to carry. . . . Wetherell tells [the story] with heartbreaking clarity and breathtaking control. . . . Like the best anti-war writing—for example, the still-wrenching tea scene in Paddy Chayefsky's The Americanization of Emily—it's about debunking heroism and elevating, in its place, the sacred luck of human survival. Even in peacetime, Wetherell's novel would stand out as a small classic of graceful language and earned emotion. But to read A Century of November now, with the fog of war drifting back our way like mustard gas, only makes it that much more salient."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Wetherell . . . traces the arc of a father's loss in this poignant, probing story about a Canadian judge who journeys from Vancouver to the European battlefield where his son died during the waning days of WWI. . . . Wetherell's prose and character writing are unflinching, and the final meeting between Marden and Reed is gut-wrenching. Though the novel travels a well-trodden route, Wetherell's take on a parent's anguish is deeply moving."
"I found myself moved by the persuasiveness of Wetherell's vision and by the often eerie rightness of his imagery. Despite the passage of 86 years, Wetherell has conjured up the world of 1918 in a way that is not in the least anachronistic. . . . There are perhaps a few ancient veterans of the war still alive. Most have died. The world and the systems for which they fought have been profoundly transformed. But the loss of all those lives should haunt us still. A Century of November reminds us that the past 100 years have brought us, not peace interrupted by war, but one long unending war on different fronts, interrupted, fitfully, by peace."
—Nicola Smith, Valley News (Vermont)
"Wetherell, a formidable artist in the tradition of the great war poets, gently increases the poundage of pressure on your heart—as well as the suspense—until you . . . are brought to the very extremities of love, hope, and despair, beyond the iron bounds of society. Gripping damning, and transfixing."
". . . a beautifully written novel of war and the wrenching grief and unanswerable questions it leaves in its wake. . . . A Century of November is full of precise, startling imagery and elegant, richly poetic description—Wetherell seems genuinely incapable of writing a lazy sentence—and this last section of the novel is as surreal, hypnotic and harrowing as any literature in recent memory. The whole thing, in fact, is a jewel, an unforgettable historical novel that Wetherell has carefully (and artfully) seeded with loads of contemporary resonance."
—Brad Zellar, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
"[A] timely reminder of the devastation of mortal combat. . . ."
"The losses of war come in for delicate treatment by W. D. Wetherell, whose novel . . . charts the course set by a mourning Canadian father seeking out the place of his son's death in the killing fields of Belgium in World War I. Elegant and moving, reminiscent of Pat Barker's trilogy, the aching narration finds its real provenance in Kipling's great story of that war, "The Gardener."
—Reamy Jansen, Bloomsbury Review
"A Century of November reveals terrible truths about all wars because it focuses so acutely on the emotional and spiritual impact on individuals. W.D. Wetherell translates the grotesque realities of war into prose-poetry that speaks of the heart and to it. . . .It is the story of how we survive the life blows that define us."
—Concord Monitor (New Hampshire)
"As with his past novels . . . Wetherell provides not only a story filled with the tragedy of war but also with the haunting interplay of the lives of pilgrims searching for lost homes and perished family. . . . while the novel finishes with an odd sense of hope, the reader is also burdened with the question of what is the acceptable price of war."
—Charleston Post and Courier
"Evocative. Haunting. Engrossing."
—Historical Novels Review
"A deeply interior work about one man's quest to make sense of a war that seems impossible to comprehend."
"Wetherell excels in description, using words with precision and solemn beauty. . . . Poignant, tragic depictions of the people left to grieve and the ravaged land, the continuing death and dying—unexploded shells, phosgene gas, miles of twisted barbed wire, and always the mud—are wrenching. Yet in the midst of pain and loss, this is a story of hope and redemption in a desolate world. 'Luminous' is an overused word in reviews, but A Century of November more than deserves the word. This elegant novel will stay with you."
"W. D. Wetherell's captivating A Century of November is one of those marvelous 'finds' that happens on occasion to people who read a lot of books. . . . It is a small book written with passion, intelligence and maturity. . . . A Century of November is full of understated emotion, deep pain, longing and, ultimately, yet another story of the total futility of war. Century is unexpected, the kind of book that keeps those of us who love literature haunting the bookshelves for its like."
—Dan Smith, Blue Ridge Business Journal
"W.D. Wetherell's latest novel is a marvelous gem of a story. It takes place on the European front during the First World War and is as much about the horrors of war as the beauty of life. Beautifully written, this is my favorite of Wetherell's novels, and perhaps the one to earn him the recognition he deserves."
Review Rose City Reader | 12/4/2009