Birdsong is a novel of the First World War, including the Battle of the Somme in France.
The novel opens just prior to the war, where a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford is staying at the home of a French businessman, while learning business methods from him. He falls head over heels for Mr. Azaire’s wife, Isabel, and a sordid affair is borne – the couple eventually running off together. After a few happy months, Isabel abruptly leaves him, with no explanation. This part of the novel was just “meh” for me. I wasn’t drawn to these characters and rather than feel any sort of sympathy, their actions turned me off.
During the war, Stephen is sent to France and endures some of the more brutal and mentally troubling war scenes I have encountered about World War I. They say that this war was so much more terrible for the combatants than other wars (although all wars are hell). This book helps the reader to understand why. Despite the author’s semi-detachment to his characters, those scenes make you really feel for all the soldiers, not just the main character. Perhaps the detached writing style was necessary in order to help the reader stomach the war scenes.
By the end of the novel, I found myself hoping Stephen would live and likewise, hoping he would die, thus ending his misery. I’m glad to finally read a World War I novel that helped me to understand exactly what it was like for the boys in the trenches.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1993