And now, something completely different: no picture for today, but some words about Birdsong, a novel written by Sebastian Faulks I’ve just finished.

I must say that I hardly read novels about the Great War. Indeed, because of my studies and my passion for history, it’s hard for me to read something about the Great War, not knowing what is fiction, what is real, and what are the author’s sources (for the very same reason, I prefer British historians and their thousands of notes than Italian ones…).

But I can make some exceptions. Some weeks ago, I’ve discovered in a bookcrossing corner in a bar in Milan this book. A rather uncommon thing, therefore I wanted to make a try. I was impressed by the author’s introduction:

I was 39 when I wrote “Birdsong”, but I had been thinking about the First World War off and on since the day when, as a schoolboy of 12, I was asked to read out at assembly on November 11 the names of the old boys of my school who had died in two world wars. It was a tiny school, but the list was so long that I was excused lessons the next day with a sore throat. Something had clearly gone on, I thought, something literally unspeakable.

Most of the novel concentrates on the main character’s (Stephen Wraysford) life in France before and during the war. The novel also focuses on the life of Stephen’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, and her attempts to find out more about her grandfather’s experiences in World War I. The story is split into seven sections which cover three different time periods: France in 1910, 1916, England in 1978, France in 1917, England in 1978-79, France in 1918, England in 1979.

I won’t describe too much the content of this novel, in order to avoid spoilers. On the military and historical point of view, it’s clear that a good documentation was used as a basis. And the manuscript was sent for a reading to Martin Middlebrook, which must be a guarantee! As English is not my mother tongue, my opinion about the style of the author doesn’t count. Some weaknesses for this book? I think there are. To be honest, I think that the affair between Stephen and Isabelle could have been presented in a separate book, and that the nature of the interactions between the characters (and especially between officers and officers and soldiers) is rather far away from 1910’s psychology.

But of course, this is only my (humble) opinion. Before beginning the reading of this book, I had asked the opinion of my twitter friends, who are all interested in WW1. 4 (really) liked it, 1was more skeptical. What is your opinion about this novel?



One thought on “Birdsong

  1. I can not comment on the book as I have the same issue with reading fiction, so I prefer history and non-fiction. But I have recently seen the BBC film version of this book. I liked the portrayal of the war and thought the characters were very believable. Perhaps i will read the book now on your recommendation.

    The details of military history were good but it resembles another movie on WW1 and the tunnel bombs which I consider a much better drama and accurate portrayal of the Battle of the Somme: Beneath Hill 60

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