“The finest, most courageous, truthful and humane book written in Europe in the course of this accursed war.”
That's Maxim Gorky talking about H G Wells's 1916 novel Mr Britling Sees It Through, a straight-from-the-heart response to the Great War that takes us through the experience of looking on at such a calamity. It's like the stages of grief, with anger, bargaining, negotiation, denial, guilt. A magnificent work full of anguish and humanity which was deservedly the best-selling book of its day.
Today the novel is in public domain, yet no major publisher offers an edition. There's a profusion of badly formatted editions from small publishers, including one that unaccountably has a photo of Montgomery Clift on the cover.
Do the big publishers think the book is no longer relevant? "All that was a century ago, let's move on..."? Not so, sadly. Wells would be appalled to learn that it's still possible for one man to order the invasion of a neighbouring country and unleash untold suffering on its inhabitants. Sons still die, daughters are still raped, civilians terrorized, all because of an autocrat's ambition and the senselessness of nationalist imperialism.
Don't take my word for it. Here's the author Adam Roberts writing in The Guardian:
"Strange to think a book so fêted and successful could drop so comprehensively off the radar. What makes it stranger is that the novel is exactly as good as Wells’s contemporaries thought: a wonderfully detailed, evocative and moving portrait of England at war."
You can get the ebook on Gutenberg, and that version is free, or you might like the new Spark Furnace edition with no fifties film star in sight. Available in the US from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and in the UK from Amazon, Blackwell's and Waterstones.