This book is part of the BBC’s Big Read – Top 100 books.
Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War is exactly that – a book about love and war. I had never heard of either the book or the author before I saw the BBC’s Top 100 list. I would never read this book if not for this book being chosen as the Book of the Month for March by the Ladies’ Literary League on Goodreads. I love these reading groups, lists and challenges – isn’t these how we discover new authors and books? Even though the title had war in it, (I don’t like war books, you see), I still started this book with a broad mind and a genuine wish to like this book. But I failed. This book was a disappointment for me.
Birdsong is about Stephen, a hard-working, young boy who visits France to learn the trade of mills. He stays with the owner of the mill where he meets Isabelle, wife of the owner, and falls helplessly in love with her. Isabelle finds herself responding to Stephen’s feelings and they end up having an affair right under the husband’s nose. As it always happens, the husband comes to know of the affair and Isabelle draws enough courage to abandon her husband and her step-children to elope with Stephen. They settle down in a small place and start their life. I can’t reveal more without spoiling it for the readers, so go and read the book to know what happens next.
The book grabs your attention from the very first page. Even though there is a lot of action in the rest of the book, I lost my interest as the story progressed. I found the war scenes especially boring. Didn’t I say I dislike fiction books on wars? Even the story that proceeds seemed implausible to me. The characters lacked depth. The romance of Stephen and Isabelle failed to draw any reaction from me. Isabelle’s action needed justification. Stephen’s reaction to Isabelle’s actions should have been stronger. And the characters that are introduced later on (can’t name them here) also were poorly developed and could have used some layers. The book should have been about just war or love – the mix of both somehow didn’t work for me. Or the author didn’t do it well. I liked Atonement, where Ian McIwan has the same ingredients – love and war and he has done a wonderful job of supporting the main love story in the backdrop of war.
In the end, there is nothing I took back home from this book. No memorable characters, no quote-worthy lines, no ‘wow’ moment – nothing at all. I am not saying that people will not like this book. I am sure many readers will like this and praise this book. All I am saying is I didn’t like this book.