[Parker's technique] can be disconcerting at first. The opening vignette is of a surgical bandage, and the reader struggles to identify it. But the technique gains steam and gives this highly autobiographical work a welcome degree of detachment ... While Mr. Parker is unsparing in building up to the moment when Barnes is nearly killed, it is his portrayal of what follows that will absorb most readers. This is one of the most intimate and detailed accounts of a wounded soldier’s recovery ever committed to paper.
Parker’s narrative might jump from the chaos of an Afghan firefight to a Sainsbury’s car park and back again, but it never feels all that puzzling: his prose, economical but evocative and at times wincingly graphic, confidently shepherds you through the ruptured timeline. What might cause puzzlement, however, is his decision to rotate the first-person narrative voice not between characters, but between objects involved in Captain Barnes’s story ... Would the book be more successful if Parker had chosen a different narrative method? I think so. But considered apart from its executional difficulties, Parker’s decision to let the objects around Barnes do the talking makes a lot of sense. After all, Barnes is himself an object for much of the book.
Parker’s narrative strategy is as ambitious as it is bizarre: a chorus of 45 inanimate objects, ranging from a catheter in a hospital to a pair of shoes to a tourniquet, a bullet and even an IED, tell his story and help to universalize his trauma. The device is mostly powerful, allowing him to access scenes of extreme emotional intensity while avoiding sentimentality or self-pity ... Anatomy of a Soldier amounts to an unusually worthy addition to the growing body of veteran literature being produced by some of the men and women who have borne the brunt of the Coalition of the Willing’s forays into the Middle East.
Parker’s decision to tell his war story through various cogs in the military apparatus that touch Captain Tom Barnes, a.k.a. BA5799 O-POS, has both advantages and disadvantages. With its intentionally disorienting, shifting points of view and flashbacks to the war zone, his approach fractures experience and captures the sense of detachment in the often bewildering, alien culture of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. It also captures his hero’s loss of bearings ... But such detachment has its costs. Inanimate objects do not make for the most animated narrators. There’s a flatness to Parker’s stark prose that, while avoiding melodrama, fails to capture the tight bonds that develop between men thrown together by war. Dialogue is often painfully unconvincing ... But Parker’s narrative device, however gimmicky, does ratchet up the intrigue.