Set before and during the great war, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.
There are books and there are books. I don’t usually make the distinction as I read what I like; if I enjoy it, I’m happy. But sometimes I come across a book and I can appreciate it wholly, for the characters and the prose and the story and this is what happened with Birdsong, once I finally got around to reading it.
In the beginning, everything is so wonderful. The French countryside at the beginning of the 1900’s was so idyllic and beautiful, but when Stephen arrives things quickly go awry. There’s a beautiful French woman and she’s married and a lady and older than him and he shouldn’t think about her, but he does! And finally you find that she thinks of him, too and she might even leave her husband –
And then the atmosphere changes completely and you are thrown into the trenches of World War 1.
The writing was amazing and the characters were brilliant. The situations they were put in were horrible, and even more so because you know that real men died in real situations just like those. After everything that they go through, the come together in the end, those who are left, and they carry on with their jobs. And it just broke my heart like everyone said it would. Jack and his men and all of their individual stories – and the ending! It was these things that I liked. What I didn’t like, was being pulled from the mud and the camaraderie of the men inside the network of underground tunnels and being plonked into someone else’s life several decades later.
Despite the second story arc, this was an easy five stars for me, and the book still made it into my top reads of 2013. Have you read Birdsong? What about The Girl at the Lion D’Or and Charlotte Grey? What did you think?