Book Review: The Odd Angry Shot

By David Hill

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The film version of 'The Odd Angry Shot' (from left), starring John Hargreaves, Bryan Brown and Graeme Kennedy.
The film version of 'The Odd Angry Shot' (from left), starring John Hargreaves, Bryan Brown and Graeme Kennedy.

The Odd Angry Shot by William Nagle
(Text Classics $15.99)

Filmed 30 years ago, out-of-print for quarter of a century, The Odd Angry Shot is a savage and mordantly funny novel that follows a group of Aussie SAS troopers in South Vietnam during the ugly, unjustified war of the 1960s.

Nagle (he died in 2002) wrote the book "in one sitting, working around the clock for six days". It shows. The story is short, hectic, sometimes chaotic.

Paul Ham's angry yet analytical introduction to this excellent new edition asserts that all soldiers are casualties. Nagle says much the same: "an army of frustrated pawns, tired, wet and sold out". Visceral and immediate, irreverent and agonised, the story pulses with the plea to "remember ... remember".

The 19-year-old protagonist, "off to protect kids and parks", arrives at Nui Dat in the wet season, when rain crashes down in waterfalls.

He leaves months later in the dry season, when the green mould is replaced by red dust. He faces fearful villagers, hunts an elusive, ubiquitous enemy. He goes on patrol, sweating with fear; endures leeches, officious paper-pushers, a thieving orang-utan.

He sees friends maimed and mashed; retaliates with casual brutality to locals; finds solace in bar girls and in practical jokes with a pet snake. He loathes anti-war protesters and pro-war politicians with equal ferocity.

The narrative slams its way onwards, in brief, brutal, battering scenes like bursts of gunfire, unexpectedly modulating into moments of wistful hope: "You're a man now, all grown up."

Events storm towards the bloodshed of the Tet Offensive.

Nagle takes no prisoners, makes no excuses. It's a story without sentiment, but packed with passion and compassion. Its damaged young men are the core of a shocking, sundering little book that punches far above its length.

- NZ Herald

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