“Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks

This has been on my TBR for a long, long time, and many people have recommended it to me over the years. It starts in 1910, and follows Stephen, a young Englishman who has travelled to Amiens in France on business, and falls in love with Isabelle, the wife of the man whose house he is staying in. Six years later, we catch up with Stephen on the battlefields of France in the first world war, in the battle of the Somme, and later at Ypres. Interspersed between Stephen’s story, we also follow the story of his granddaughter in England, 1978, as she discovers his war diaries and finds out more about his life.

This was a real page turner of a story. After the bright colours of the Amiens chapters, the muddy, almost monochrome pallet of the soldiers in the trenches were such a contrast and reflected the nature of war. The conditions the soldiers worked and lived in, and the horrendous scenes of battle were harrowing to read, as well as portraying the claustrophobia of digging the tunnels under the fields in horrifying detail. A really incredible account of the reality of war.

However, I don’t think I’m going to be popular with this opinion, but after reading now my fourth Faulks book, I’ve realised why I never give them top ratings; I don’t fully engage with his characters. I don’t know why, but for some reason I enjoy reading (most of) them, but as soon as I’ve finished, the characters are gone. From what I’d been told, I’d thought I was going to take Stephen and Isabelle to heart, and feel a genuine emotional link with their story, but I never did. It was a fascinating book, and took me to places I’d never been, but I never felt that tug of emotion about them as people. I think this is my problem though, as like I’ve said, lots of people who I respect have told me that they did engage with them, so I’m putting it down to a fault on my part.

Overall though, a difficult subject to read, but told in a very approachable way, and I would still recommend it to others, if only to read about the realities and hardship of a war that saw the loss of more than 9 million men, and left those who returned both physically and mentally scarred for the rest of their lives.

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