I read Birdsong five years ago and it was a huge chore to read. I got bored and had to force myself. However as I have learnt through past experience that every book deserves a second chance and I’m glad to have re-read Birdsong as it was a wonderful experience and quite possibly the best book about the first World War that I have read.
Stephen Wraysford goes to France in order to check out the textile industry but ends up seducing his host’s wife, Isabelle and they run off to another area of France. After some time Isabelle leaves without Stephen knowing, which leaves him heartbroken.
Eventually he ends up as a soldier in the First World War and tries to reconstruct is pass.
Now and then there are parts which take place in the late 70’s, Where Stephens grand-daughter is trying to understand the past by collecting his journals and understanding where her lineage comes from.
Now this is quite a superficial summary which leaves out a great many details. The horror and filth of the trenches, the insanity of war and the constant loss of lives. There are moments of relief but on the whole Faulks (naturally) portrays an extremely grim picture of the years 1914 – 1918. Plus he also shows how easily forget the turmoil of war as Wrayford’s grand-daughter find that most people around her are very nonchalant about this world event. which shaped the society she lives in.
There are many poignant moments but personally it’s the last 30 pages that focus on Wraysford and another soldier in an underground tunnel, it’s gripping and tense but there’s also with an eye-raising outcome, which makes you think about the nature of revenge. Then there’s also the section on body lice which is a bit gross out but is fascinating to see how meticulous Faulks’ research on the subject was.
I suggest that as a good primer to Birdsong, one should check out Wilfred Owen’s poems. His descriptions tally a lot with many scenes in Birdsong and complement the novel nicely, even more than Pat Barker’s Regeneration!