The protagonist of Timothy Findley's third novel is Robert Ross, a troubled young soldier in the First World War. Ross is haunted by a family tragedy, and traumatized by the worst horrors of trench warfare. The soul-destroying events he experiences build in intensity to one final desperate act. In his introduction to the 2005 Penguin Modern Classic edition, Guy Vanderhaeghe called The Wars "the finest historical novel ever written by a Canadian."
The Wars won the 1977 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.
The mud. There are no good similes. Mud must be a Flemish word. Mud was invented here. Mudland must have been its name. The ground is the colour of steel. Over most of the plain there isn't a trace of topsoil; only sand and clay. The Belgians call them 'clyttes', these fields, and the further you go towards the sea, the worse the clyttes become. In them, the water is reached by the plough at an average depth of eighteen inches. When it rains (which is almost constantly from early September through to March, except when it snows) the water rises at you out of the ground. It rises from your footprints — and an army marching over a field can cause a flood. In 1916, it was said that you 'waded to the front'. Men and horses sank from sight. They drowned in mud. Their graves, it seemed, just dug themselves and pulled them down.
From The Wars by Timothy Findley ©1970. Published by Penguin Random House Canada.