It tells the story of Stephen Wraysford and the events that shape his life. Starting in pre-war France and moving on in time, it deals with Stephen's experiences in love and war. The novel incorporates Stephen's friendship with Michael Weir, a fellow soldier and also includes the stories of other soldiers that fight alongside them.
This is a graphic and detailed novel. Faulks describes in detail the events that these soldiers lived through on a daily basis. Despite the disturbing nature of some of these scenes, the novel is so beautifully and cleverly written that it is compulsive.
Faulks ties in the events of Stephen Wraysford during the First World War to modern life with the quest of Stephen's Grandaughter, Elizabeth, to trace her past and seek out what happened to her Grandfather. She does this when she discovers the journals that her Grandfather wrote during the war.
The novel is structured so that it moves forward and back in time and reminds the reader of the benefits we have today because of the sacrifices made by so many men.
It is a poignant and moving novel and one which brings home the realities and the true atrocities that the soldiers of the First World War suffered. Once read, it will never be forgotten.
I will justify this statement, not by repeating the things other people have said but through highlighting just one passage that really moved me.
This is when Michael Weir - Stephen Wraysford's closest wartime friend - goes home on leave to his parents in Leamington Spar. Weir has experienced death, squalor, disease, and utter degredation in the trenches. Yet his family cannot understand or respond when he tries to convey these experiences to them. It is beyond their imagination - as it is ours - that men could tolerate such conditions. Instead we see his parents treating him as if he has just been up to town for the week. They rebuke him, for example, for not telling them exactly the time he would be arriving. His mother fusses over him like a child: "You look a bit thin, Michael. What have they been feeding you on over in France?" You sense Weir's desperation as he realises that he cannot communicate any of the reality of the war to his family. This is so moving and heart-wrending. One can really believe that it was like that for so many men and their families when the war, for the British people, was "over there".
However, I am glad that I did stick with this as the rest of the book totally changed my mind. The descriptions of life in the war are very moving and many of the characters beautifully drawn. It really brings home the horror of war reading a book that is clearly well researched and that describes trench life so realistically. I did not like the character of Stephen in the Amiens section of the book, but war makes him into a more likable, mature person and you find yourself rooting for him and his colleagues to survive, and upset when many of them don't. The character's here are wonderfully drawn, very human unlike the unrealistsic heros of many a war novel who seem more like comic book heros. We see the weaknesses and fear of these men, and yet they become more heroic because of this than characters in other books.
The device of Stephen's grandchild looking back at events in the future works in how it helps to reveal the truth of what happened to Stephen and Isabelle in the long run, but it is not the most convinving or enjoyable element of this read.Read more ›