❥❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)
The Place Between the Pillars by Brandon Glossop is a novel that I would not have picked up of my own accord, but that every person should pick up and read at some point in their life. It follows the life of John Hall, an Afghanistan veteran who struggles to reintegrate himself into society after his service in the army and deals primarily with substance abuse issues, aspects of PTSD and extreme feelings of hatred and prejudice. While this is not normally the type of book I would rush to pick up and devour, it is one of the more important and poignant novels I have read this year, and it is undoubtedly full of subject matter that every person should encounter and be forced to investigate. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Place Between the Pillars from the author himself, and I am very grateful to Brandon Glossop, not only for allowing me the opportunity to delve into his specific work, but also for opening my eyes to issues that I would’ve otherwise been totally blind to.
I don’t always do this when reviewing a novel, but in this particular case, I felt it best to write notes as I read and transcribe them below. I feel that this way of writing a review more easily and accurately reflects my various emotions throughout my entire reading process, and so I felt that this sort of review would come across as more genuine. But first, I’d like to provide a few general thoughts on the novel as a whole, before delving into more detailed notes from my reading process…
I haven’t read a book like this since my Master’s. It wasn’t a pleasant or pleasurable reading experience whatsoever, but it was an important one. The novel packs a punch, it hits the reader hard and it deals with subject matter that is in no way light or frivolous, even when it is presented with sarcasm and dry humour. It is a book that cannot be taken or entered into lightly.
Rather than being enjoyable, this book is informative. There are different types of reading experiences, and entering into a study of The Place Between the Pillars is a didactic rather than a relaxing one. It is a story that begs you to think, that is designed to shock the reader and make them uncomfortable. It isn’t an easy journey by any standards, and yet it feels like a necessary one, particularly in this day and age.
The reason I could not give this book a full 5 stars is because part of me wishes it was narrated in the first person. I think that style would’ve made it a lot easier for me to feel emotionally connected to Hall and would’ve allowed me to better empathize with and pity him. This is not to say that I think pity is always a good sentiment, but in this case, I feel it would’ve helped me to understand Hall better and feel less contempt toward him. Although the dialogues are very well-written, I also craved first person narration at times because I wanted to know what Hall really sounded like, inside his own mind, and fully uncensored. I don’t see this as a real criticism, though…if anything, it is testament to just how complex Hall’s characterization is that I wanted to get to know him better…to get inside him.
What I Thought During My Reading of The Place Between the Pillars…
(These notes were written sequentially, as I read the narrative, and so my thoughts and emotions do bounce around quite a bit. It is, however, the most honest representation of what I went through as I read John Hall’s story.)
– Very graphic! You feel the wounds as if you have them – I felt physically ill at times!
* “Hall rubbed his face and looked at Hartford. Hartford looked hung over, but he was still Hartford – still human. Hall felt like something less.”
– Alcohol problem = substance abuse issues slowly build up.
* “You don’t need it…make this your last one.” = Hall thinks this and then is back to drinking 3 days later/in the next chapter…this will be a frustrating, back and forth process.
– Finding it a tad difficult to get a grasp on location at the beginning. If you’re not up on army protocol, it’s a bit jolting (for example, I wish some of the acronyms were written out, like IRF, PT, LAVs). The narration is disjointed and jarring, which is a great way to portray Hall’s substance abuse = he is out of it and so are we.
– Glossop’s descriptions are so detailed that I myself started to feel exhausted, disoriented and sick along with Hall. But, at the same time, Hall is such a flawed character that I don’t know how to feel about him. Do I feel pity? Contempt? I think Glossop wants to elicit empathy more than anything.
– Tons of vulgarity (for example, Hall blacking out and sleeping with a 15 year old)…very mature subject matter!
*racism (against Middle Eastern people) *sexism (women as whores) *alcoholism (BUT not perceived as serious or taken seriously!)
* “‘When I die, I want to know what it feels like. I want to experience it. It only happens once, and who knows, it might feel good. If not, then fuck it, it wouldn’t last long.’” = very dark and disturbing!
– Part of me felt like the story should be in first person (see my comments above)…BUT then we would sympathize more with Hall…plus, he’s blacked out for most of it anyway!
– Alcohol to MDMA…the addictions are progressing…
– Some scenes, like Hall bloody and getting out of bed, are so vivid and clearly described that I felt physically ill and my body was tingly!
– Everything is described in such meticulous detail (for example, Hall’s dinner, reading and YouTube videos, the route of his run). We feel every breath with Hall, even when nothing much happens.
– It’s heartbreaking in a way because just as Hall is recovering and getting a hold on things, he falls into another addiction. But is his life too boring? Does it lack purpose and stimulus?
– Wright’s diatribe on Middle Eastern men… Alludes to the issue of othering the enemy and overgeneralizing about an entire race of people. It is the “Us vs. Them” mentality taken to the extreme…a fundamental danger of being in the army.
– I’m not sure if I hate Hall or feel sorry for him. But how much is he to blame for? It is a much larger problem that has made him into a “monster”, but it is so hard not to judge from the standpoint of someone who has never been through what he has!
– I hate Hall, but I feel guilty for hating him because there’s a bigger reason for why he is the way he is. It is a very challenging experience for the reader!
– Hall’s diatribe on Middle Eastern people is even worse than Wright’s. He is relentless and cruel and blind to the inhumanity of what he says. And yet, he is speaking from “personal experiences” and his opinions are flawed and fucked up because of what he saw and endured. As someone who is half Middle Eastern and marrying a Middle Eastern man, I was immediately offended, but also appalled that Hall was forced into this way of thinking… How can it be reversed or stopped? What do we have to do to prevent these repercussions?
– I do like Kitty as a character. She seems to represent all of us, our shock, fear, disgust and pity… “‘You sounded sadistic, John. You sounded evil.’”
– Hall recognizes that he is wrong BUT there is a part of him that has truly suffered. He has hatred because he was wronged. What are we to make of this? “‘Well, shit, Kitty, I spent two years being trained to kill people…’”
– Chapter 26 is utterly brilliant! It is entirely dialogue and written so well. It represented such realistic conversation. Glossop is a master at creating dialogue!
– I am actually feeling anxiety for Kitty! I like her a lot!
– The last third of the novel mostly centers on Hall and Kitty doing A LOT of drugs, and it made me very anxious to see them fall apart. I want them to get their acts together. They were sober for 3 months, so can’t they do it again?
– Honestly, reading about Hall and Kitty getting high makes me feel physically ill and itchy. The writing style is simple and stripped down, but that causes the reader to feel it more acutely.
– Touching Moments: 1) Hall playing with the boy in Afghanistan, throwing rocks with him and hoping he will survive. 2) Hall interacting with the Muslim woman in the pet store and letting her son pet his cat. These scenes seem to allude to a buried humanity in Hall and a chance at redemption. They are moments of heart amidst depravity.
* “‘I went there to sort out my PTSD, to sort out the cause of my drinking and coke habit, and they wouldn’t touch it….they told me I couldn’t talk about anything that happened overseas, because, get this, they were worried it might traumatize the other clients.’” = This quote directly sums up our society’s failings with regards to veterans.
– Will sharing the story of the death of his friend Brett Phillips was so graphic and made me feel physically ill. Glossop is a skilled writer! He knows how to force the reader to visualize things they don’t want to!
– A heart wrenching feeling at the end that Hall will never get his life together or kick his bad habits. A very bleak and cynical tone and feeling. Such a heartbreaking conclusion with no optimism!
“‘Well I just happen to have all the ingredients for the John Hall special…coke, oxy, and MDMA.’”
There is a difference between books and literature, that much is certain. Glossop clearly has the potential to write literature. And while these sorts of hard hitting, profound novels are harder for readers to pick up because they demand a responsible and focused reading, they are the most worthwhile stories to read and encounter. Glossop, in The Place Between the Pillars, writes a story that is not only worth reading, it is a necessary read and I would recommend it to any and every adult. We all have much to learn from it.
My Favourite Passage from the Novel…
(Glossop’s writing really shines here and his potential as a writer is clear!)
“In war, death is not a very important thing. When it happens, the importance falls on how to solve it – who takes what job, what to do with the body, and how equipment is to be redistributed. If you are affected by it, you are expected to solve any resulting issues that might jeopardize your effectiveness as a soldier or inform your chain of command so that they can do it for you. In war, death is a stoppage. But in the civilized world, nothing is more important than death. Wallpaper and carpets can scream of it for years.”
*A huge thank you to Brandon Glossop for providing me with a copy of The Place Between the Pillars. It was my pleasure to read and review it!*
Girl with a Green Heart