BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks

This epic novel is probably one of the most intense evocations of World War 1 as lived on the frontline. The beginning of the novel is tedious and a tad gratituous; Wrayford, the earnest lost loner, falls in love/lust with an unhappily married Isabelle in France - but it's obvious the romance is rather one-sided and it peters out in a rather unsatisfying longwinded way making it hard to persevere. I thought this book was about the horrors of World War 1? This kind of affair happens every day.

But I stuck in. Family members on my mother's side fought in that war and would never speak about it. The narrative chops to 1978 and Wrayford's granddaughter's perspective, whose curiosity mirrors the reader's.  But, on the whole, the 1978 narrative is a tepid, unnecessary add-on. I don't understand the relevance of Stuart or Robert or the baby; it's too tidy. Despite this,  the intensity of the novel begins to kick in. While the women are vague, sketched out greyly, the world of the tunnellers and soldiers is so surreal and explodes imagination more than any sci-fi or fantasy. The novel is based on meticulous factual research making it even more poignant. The reader is disorientated: morally, physicaly and the emotional depth is more palpable than most cinematic experiences. The final part of the novel is compulsive: the reader is in the dark, being buried alive before the final glorious revelation.  

I was dreading this being just another mobid grim war/broken family tragedy or sinking into sentimentalism but the novel shocks into a deeper truth. Wraysford and the reader are both challenged and changed irrevocably.

'Birdsong' delivers a glimpse into the intensity of a life lived fully, witnessing both the nightmares and the marvels of real human nature pushed beyond itself. I think the REAL pity of war is that most people, with their vicarious safe existences in the twenty first century, will never experience relationships like this. Maybe peace can only be savoured by those who know the reality of life.

Thank you, Sebastian Faulks. The back end was worth enduring the front.