Originally published July 12th, 2014
This book just didn’t do it for me. Even though I looked forwards to reading it for years and came to it with no preconceptions, it was a relief to finish it. A relief, and a disappointment, as I realized none of the hopes I had for the novel and its characters would come to fruition; which I suppose is a pertinent revelation considering the book is about World War I. The hopes and dreams of entire nations were squashed. What matter my book-expectations? Especially since I couldn’t seem to relate to any of the characters. All that reading and effort for so little payback. The subtle differences between how Faulks portrays his male and female characters grated on me. Even when he was writing from the point of view of a female character she seemed less real than the plethora of male characters filling the novel. There’s a distance, as though everything is being filtered or translated before presentation. It’s not there with the male characters. There’s a strange omission in the pages of Rene’s ranting over how Isabelle isn’t pregnant yet; Isabelle’s reaction to it. Or at least to mention she doesn’t care one way or the other. Elizabeth seems more fleshed out, more tangible, than the other women in the book. Although she’s a character in her own right she seems mainly to exist in relation to the men around her, and for the men around her. Unfortunately standard for women characters.
There’s plenty to discuss in this book, to be sure. Faulks’ use of birds, bird imagery, the strange relationship Berard and Rene have, or Weir and Stephen. But I just don’t want to talk about it. Like the men in the trenches I want to close my mouth and move on.