Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks)

War time Fiction, 8/10 – Jan-Feb 2004

The book starts before the war in Amiens, in 1910, when Stephen Wraysford has an intense love affair with a married woman that comes to an unsatisfactory end. The novel then shifts in time to 1916, when we encounter Stephen enduring the nightmare world of the trenches. The horror of this experience is depicted objectively; the facts are allowed to speak for themselves.

The terribly tragic, and all too forgotten era of the great war is brought to life incredibly vividly. One can almost experience the fear during an artillery barrage, taste the tension and anxiety of battle and witness the horror of impersonal, needless, mass slaughter on the Somme. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford’s attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it.
There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter’s quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective. A very moving book and I think it important to understand what our ancestors really went though for us.

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