Despite the common assertion that any political message in contemporary literature should be submerged somewhere beneath the surface, Zoe Lambert happily displays her agenda on every page of The War Tour, from front sleeve to back. Lambert presents an eclectic representation of war, touching on its historical, personal, and national effects, whilst also highlighting those who usually become war’s primary victims. Her most powerful writing considers how war affects the ordinary person, the individual, and how these effects can last through the ages. In the face of the tragedy of war, she seeks to tell us, people around the world are reduced to the same isolation and despair.
When she does truly dramatise this, in tales such as the desolate ‘When the Truck Came’ and the thought-provoking ‘From Kandahar’, we are treated to work of extreme emotion and power. These stories, respectively, deal with a young African boy forced to fight as a soldier and the struggle he faces to keep his identity, and the story of a veteran returning to his hometown. As far as two stories about war can be, these are polar opposites, but Lambert manages to represent both situations with such subtle mastery that you are left thinking about the protagonist’s lives for long afterwards.
In other stories, Lambert fails to avoid the dangers that are inherent in such clearly ideological writing. This becomes most obvious when she tries to resurrect historical situations and figures. In ‘The Spartacist League’, ‘Crystal Night’, and ’33 Bullets’, Lambert uses real people, actual speeches, and historical evidence as the spine of her stories. Although it feels like these may be the most important to the author, they were actually the hardest to digest. With an obvious desire to represent the truth, and with a message that becomes overstated, Lambert neglects her usually well-crafted characterisation and settings, resulting in flat and uninflected prose and little dramatic interest.
In the title story ‘The War Tour’, Lambert muses on themes of love, personal development, and individual struggle. She details the last moments of a relationship as a couple visit Sarajevo and one partner is forever altered by an encounter with a war victim. ‘We’ll Meet Again’ sees a Rwandan refugee working in an old people’s home, and again, love, loss, and grief are the subjects. In these stories the war theme becomes the backdrop. Indeed, at times it feels like it is present simply so they can fit in with the title. Having said that, these are two of the collections strongest pieces, both with emotional crescendos that highlight the talent and potential that Zoe Lambert possesses.
Any Cop?: In a word, yes. Lambert may overdo her message at times, but a debut collection with three under par stories and twelve that range from very readable to absolutely fantastic, is not something to be sniffed at. Hopefully, a new collection is imminent. If she can write this well while trying also to force home her message, it will be interesting to see what she can do when simply writing, letting the stories do the work for her.