It’s starting to strike me that by far the most common subject matters for books in this list are love and war. Birdsong begins as a love story, when Stephen Wraysford begins a passionate affair with Isabelle, the wife of his host and business associate, Azaire. When it all goes wrong, Stephen finds himself fighting in WWI, with only his memories of those times to cling on to.
I found Stephen a little pathetic, in the beginning; he seemed indecisive and weak, although perhaps that was just his youth. Once we reached the war years, I felt he could have made more of an impression on me, but by then I was distracted by the newly introduced characters of Jack Firebrace, a charismatic miner, and Elizabeth, who was Stephen’s granddaughter. Both provided a nice balance to Stephen’s detached, cynical air.
As always, the war scenes were completely harrowing. I always feel ashamed that I feel the strongest about things when I have a face to attach to the situation. I know the facts about WWI – the poor trench conditions, the face to face combat, the poor logistics – but it takes a story to bring it to life for me, to bring tears to my eyes and to really understand what happened. Perhaps this is why literature is so valuable to me, because of the way it flings me into other countries, other experiences, other lives, and coaxes me through them, no matter how difficult it may be.