Birdsong Readalong: Mid-Way Point

Monday, April 15, 2013

Part One: France 1910 
Stephen, a young English man, travels to France for business. He stays with Azaire and his family while he complete his work. He soon finds himself falling for Azaire's young second wife Isabelle. She is a few years older than Stephen and the two soon embark on an affair.

We learn that Azaire is cruel to his wife and Stephen had a horrible childhood and was left with no guardian or caretaker for much of his youth. Also, he's got a serious fear of birds, which judging by the title I think might be a bit of foreshadowing. 

So Isabelle and Stephen decide to run away together. Leaving her husband and step-children, the two lovers begin a life together in France. Stephen works during the day and, though still in love, they grow a bit distant as the adjust to their new circumstances. 

Isabelle, struggling with her guilt over their affair and he fear that she will have a miscarriage, leaves Stephen to go live with her sister Jeanne. That's where we leave the tragic couple. 

Part Two: France 1916
Six year later and we are in the midst of World War I now. My first thoughts, where is Stephen, where's Isabelle? Did she have the baby? But I think we'll have to wait awhile for those answers.

We meet Jack Firebrace, a tunneler working for the English. We do soon meet Stephen again, but he's a cold officer in the army. We see Stephen get injured and then dumped with the corpses. Oh my gosh that was a chilling scene! Stephen is terrified of abandonment and so these moments, when he thinks he is about to die, bring that fear into a sharp focus.

“He would die without ever having been loved, not once, not by anyone who had known him. He would die alone and unmourned. He could not forgive them – his mother or Isabelle or the man who had promised to be a father.”

He slowly recovers and we get a horrifying glimpse of other injured soldiers in the hospital. He and his friend Michael Weir are reunited behind the lines when Stephen reuses to take the leave offered to him. We also learn more about Firebrace and tragically about the death of his young son. I was surprised by how heartbroken I was for him. He is surrounded by death and yet it’s miles away, safe in England, where tragedy strikes his family.

The scenes on the battlefield were simply terrifying. I haven’t read another book that showed World War I in such a vivid and frightening way. I’d never thought before of how scary it must have been for the soldiers to come up against tanks and machine guns. These were often quiet farmers and machine warfare was a completely new concept.

“He watched the men harden to the mechanical slaughter. There seemed to him a great breach of nature which no one had the power to stop.”

Now that I’ve finally made it through the first half I’m loving it! I think it’s interesting that each new section introduces us to a new cast of characters and a very different setting. I can’t wait to see where the story takes us next! We’ll wrap up on April 30th.

Do you like our main two characters? Do you think they made the right decision to run away together?


Cat said...

I have kept up with the reading - it's the blogging that is stagnating right now so I haven't done a mid-way post and will have to make up for it at the end.

So far enjoying it very much. Love the peace/war, before/after contrast of parts 1 & 2 with both set in and around Amiens.

I think Stephen & Isabel's affair would have eventually fizzled out ( which it does anyway)if they hadn't been found out and forced into action.

I don't like Isabel!! The way she up and left was cowardly and cruel especially as Stephen had told her of his early life.

" The function of music is to liberate in the soul those feelings which normally we keep locked up in the heart" - I connect this quote with the title and birdsong being natural self-expression. Stephen's nightmare reflects the fear he feels of any lack of self control and the destructive results it might have as happened when he was young. His fears are realised when he loves and Isabel leaves him. Those last paragraphs of Pt 1 are so sad.

Part 2 is as good as anything I've read about WWI - the tunnelling I knew little about and is very interesting. Great characters and all so heartbreaking.

Just a few thoughts :-).....the reading continues.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Cat - I'm so glad you're enjoying it! I completely agree about their affair. It was unrealistic to think they could have a normal relationship based only on the passion of a moment. I still can't believe she left with no explanation though! That really was cruel and selfish.

I love your thoughts on the title. I think his fear of abandonment has only been reinforced by her actions. I'm really liking the WWI tunneling parts. War is such a harsh reality.