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Good-bye to All That by Robert Graves review a timely reissue

Graves's superbly sardonic memoir should be essential reading for the centenary of the first world war

Robert Graves's superbly sardonic account of his childhood, schooling, the great war and his first marriage was written in just four months in 1929, when he was 33. It was his attempt at "a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that". By then he had separated from his wife and was living with the American poet Laura Riding. The idea of a farewell to the past was hers. In 1957, when Graves re-edited the memoir, "the book's hidden mentor was effaced", as Andrew Motion says in the introduction to this timely reissue of the original edition. It is a remarkable book, a "bitter leave-taking of England" as Graves described it. He hated Charterhouse school, where he was mercilessly bullied: "I came near a nervous breakdown." He enlisted within days of the outbreak of war because he "dreaded" going up to Oxford. His vivid account of life and death in the trenches is haunting: "I kept myself awake and alive by drinking about a bottle of whisky a day." Seriously wounded (and reported dead), he found life back in Blighty almost as bad: "everyone was mad". Essential reading for the centenary of the first world war.

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