Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
What’s it about? Matterhorn is a novel of the Vietnam war in which a company of Marines build, abandon and retake an outpost on a remote hilltop in Vietnam. The story is told from the point of view of Lieutenant Mellas, a college kid who realizes too late that “because of his desire to look good coming home from a war, he might never come home at all.” The author Karl Marlantes, a highly decorated Marine Corps officer and veteran of Vietnam, spent 30 years writing this book. His persistence has paid off: many have called this the definitive novel of the Vietnam War.
Is the narrator any good? The narrator, Bronson Pinchot, was selected by Audible.com as Narrator of the Year in 2010 for his reading of Matterhorn. No argument here: Bronson is excellent. I was particularly impressed with the distinct voices he gave to the large cast of characters.
The verdict? I haven’t read / listened to many war stories, but since Matterhorn was chosen by Audible.com as Audio Book of the Year for 2010 and I loved Unbroken I decided to give it a go. It took me a little bit to get into the story (probably because of the large cast of characters and military jargon), but eventually I was hooked. Matterhorn is not always an easy listen: you are taken to the front lines of a brutal war and experience all the despair, futility and stupidity that comes with this. On the flip side, there is plenty of heroism, brotherhood and sacrifice.
While the combat scenes are gripping and tense, Marlantes is also able to fly above the fray with musings on the nature of life that are insightful and, at times, poetic. Interestingly, the spaces between the battles scenes – the pre-combat tension and rear-echelon politics – are the best parts of the audio book and create the real terror of Matterhorn. In summary, this is an important audio book with authentic storytelling and first class narration that will leave you with a new perspective on the ravages of war, the politics and bureaucracy of the military, and the peculiar beauty of brotherhood.