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VINE VOICEon 10 January 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I picked Alan Monaghan's book on the basis of the title. As any second or third generation English-dwelling-Irish-kid will tell you, the Soldiers Song is without fail played by the DJ at the end of any social gathering down the local Irish Association club house. It's a particularly rousing tune, especially when sung along in the native tongue, but it was only years later I heard the translation and realised what it was all about.

The Irish history from the last century is celebrated in film, song and folklore, and when I was growing up it was still in living memory for a few people around and about. Due to early exposure to the likes of the Dubliners and the Wolfetones, I have always held a slightly romantic view of the rebels at the Easter Uprising - and their tragic end at the hands of a barbaric government. Monaghan's book brings the view from the other side of the fence, instead of the rebels being the heroes of the book, our central character is Stephen Ryan, a talented mathematician who signs up for the 'King's shilling' at the outbreak of World War 1. His experiences of warfare abroad in Suvla Bay and the Somme are coupled with his experience of the change of attitude towards Soldiers in his native Dublin. There is a climax early on when Stephen ends up defending Trinity College at the uprising, knowing that his brother is on the other side.

The story itself seems at once fast paced, but also thorough. The depictions of war and the life in the trenches is graphic enough to give you the stomach churns, but more important is Stephen's turmoil, which for most of the book goes unconfronted as he continues doggedly on - essentially just trying to be a good man.

A real and gritty book, with a kind of passion and heart that make me want to read it again in the near future. Will be made into a film if any canny producer gets their hands on it!
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on 20 July 2010
I thought this was an excellent book. It is set in Ireland just before the outbreak of the First World War and centres on the life of Stephen Ryan a student of mathematics at Trinity College in Dublin who volunteers to fight for England following the outbreak of war.

The story follows him to Turkey and then the trenches in Europe and gives an interesting insight into the sheer scale and the physical and emotional effect of the war both on those fighting on the front line and those left behind in Ireland.

The Dublin rebellion and its aftermath are also covered, which I found interesting, not knowing a great deal about Irish history. Lillian Bryce, Stephen's love interest, is also a great character.

I'm not generally a huge admirer of war related books, and was put off by the reference to Sebastian Faulks as I'm not a huge fan, so was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this. I would highly recommend it to other readers.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 December 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
With more than a little flavour of a less verbose My son, my son (the battlegrounds of class and familial politics with the First World War and Irish Politics at that time), first time Novelist Alan Monaghan has written a clear and spare book, set in the trenches of the First World War, and in Dublin, from just before the start of that war, till shortly before its end.

Monaghan's ability to tell a big story in a very narrative way, whilst coming from a particular class perspective also reminded me of some of A.J. Cronin's writings. Both Cronin and Spring are populist, yet serious narrative writers who have rather fallen out of fashion - excellent craftsmen, if not literary highbrows.

According to the publisher's blurb this novel was based on a story (short story?) which won a couple of New Writing awards in 2002. There's clearly been a long wait till the publication of this, his first novel, and I would say the wait has borne good fruit.

Monaghan's credentials from short story writing are very clearly in evidence - there is little waste, little padding, and the structure and language are precise. In fact, in some ways the book reads as a collection of sequential short stories, with each chapter pretty well perfect and complete as a unit on its own. It could also serve very well as the basis of a film - every chapter a clear scene.

Often, there are points where the reader might expect a lot of detailed 'action' writing, particularly in the battle encounters. Monaghan ends his chapters almost at the high or tipping point, and then the equivalent of 'the shoot-out' is not described, but the next chapter may start a few days, weeks or months later - its very like scene endings, without the need to describe the journey to the next scene - it works very well

My only slight reservation was in the final tying up of ends. This didn't quite work for me, and seemed a little contrived
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VINE VOICEon 14 March 2010
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Amidst the raft of World War 1 related books of all descriptions published in the last couple of years, "The Soldiers Song" stands out as it offers a perhaps uniquely Irish perspective on the conflict both at home in Ireland, and in Europe. And it does this really well, despite some patchy writing in places.

In the book the situation "at home" whereby many men volunteered despite being staunch republicans is described to a tee, with the attitudes and experiences of Dublin life taken with the main character out to the bloody trenches of France. He's a very well rounded, well written character with whom it's easy to feel some empathy thanks in no small part to some fine cinematic writing by the author.

I also enjoyed the way the book ended - in an open way, leaving the door hopefully open for more of this line of story to unfold. My only hope is that next time the author takes care of the some of instory, instead of switching from scene to scene as frequently.
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VINE VOICEon 5 January 2010
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Its not often you a book is as loving, as involving or as poigiant as this one. the depth of the caracters, the details of surroundings and the creative skills of Monaghan create a world that will involve you and test your emotions even past the final page. Monaghan is a great writer, his story of love amongst the trnechs of war makes for a great story that draws you in as if you were walking side by side with the characters.
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VINE VOICEon 18 January 2010
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I am an addict of war stories and think that I recognise a good one when I see it. In my opinion Alan Monaghan has succeeded pretty well in positioning the story of a family with different views of the world during the time of World War I.
One man fights the Germans and the other his brother, decides to fight another battle back home in Ireland against the British.
The conflict between the brothers is an important aspect of the story and is sensitively written.
The pace of the book is good although the writing is a little patchy at times but the decriptions of the awfulness of war in the trenches is convincing.
This is a very competent starter to what will be a series and it naturally leaves a few questions unanswered which I assume will be developed in the next books.
I did not learn much that was new about the terrors of war but with the wealth of great writing we have already had access to it is unreasonable to expect much that will be new.
I did care about the characters though and that is where the strength of the novel lies. I look forward to seeing what follows.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Soldier's Song was a very good read with plenty of detail, and characters that kept you interested in the novel. It covered a range of different events both to do with the war, but also the political events in Ireland, such as the issue of Home Rule and The Easter Rising. I also enjoyed the `cameo' appearances of some famous figures at the time, having studied them in History. Oddly, the character's name is Stephen, which is also the same as the main character's name in Sebastian Faulk's Birdsong, to which it shares a striking resemblance. I found that some of the description, particularly during the fighting, lacking that extra detail, the `blow-by-blow' description that Faulk's provides, however, it is still a well researched and entertaining novel, and I will certainly be buying the next book in the Soldier series (the author will publish a new book every year).The book says that it covers three main themes: conflict, love and family, though upon reading it, the main focus is on conflict. As an English student who is studying `Love through the ages' at A Level, I thought that this book would have been a good addition to my wider reading. However, there are only occasional instances of love, which was slightly disappointing. Nonetheless, Monaghan has written a captivating novel, typical of modern-day War related literature, well-recommended.
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on 22 December 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This isn't the sort of book I would normally read, but it is well written, and has clear narrative drive. It's not really the sort of book to fill you with seasonal cheer, but if you are looking for a festive read and are interested in historical novels, and have perhaps enjoyed 'Birdsong', then I would recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2009
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This book shows the pain that is created within a family when circumstances of war force the family members onto different sides of a conflict.
I have read a lot of WWI books but this is the first with the Irish connection which just serves to complicate all the political issues already heightened at a time of war. This was also used to illustrate the lack of support received by some of the soldiers fighting overseas for Britain.
The author very cleverly portrays the confusion and miscommunication on the battlefield. I was left with a feeling of futility and also a great sadness that much of the anger and agression seemed to be misdirected.
The reality of trench warfare is described in incredible detail. More unusually, also explored was when the soldiers came home and had to deal with the physical and, more often, mental effects of the suffering.
The back of the book says that this is the first of a soldier series in which one book will be published every year - can't wait for the next one.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A compelling to read.

I enjoyed Sebastian faulks novel Birdsong which followed the trench war of the First war, this book sounded similar and I had high hopes of good read.

The central character in The Soldier's Song is Stephen Ryan, a gifted mathematics scholar at Trinity College, living with his sick father and disillusioned younger brother in a Dublin tenement.

The story is a love story which also takes you to the hard trenches of the First War and The book covers the growing unrest back in Dublin where his brother is fighting for the rebels.

At times It was a hard read and found I had to force my self to keep going, then others parts of the novel had me buried in the text.

It is a very good first novel, not in the same league as Birdsong, but still worth a visit.
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