Twenty year old Stephen Wraysford arrives in France in 1910. As an orphan Stephen grew up in care but has an education provided by his well meaning guardian and now he’s been sent by the textile company he works for in England to observe the new manufacturing process used in a factory in Amiens, owned by Rene Azaire. Behind the large, bourgeois home of the Azaire’s, where Stephen is going to stay, the river Somme breaks into small picturesque canals where fisherman sit and blackbirds sing overhead. In his pockets he has a leather notebook, his rail ticket and a knife.

Stephen’s passionate, life changing affair with Isabelle, Madame Azaire, is the focus of this first part, and when he writes about her in his journal written in a private code, ‘pulse’ is the word he uses for her. This is a section that glitters with life, the sounds and the newness, even the demonstrations at the factory for more pay are lives being lived with hope for social progression.

Continue reading “Birdsong”

A Month in the Country


a month in the country
Now an old man, Tom Birkin, looks back at the idyllic summer of 1920 when he was hired to uncover a medieval mural on a wall in the village church of Oxgodby in Yorkshire, England.  Arriving in the pouring rain, ‘nerves shot to pieces, wife gone, dead broke’ he admires the ancient church that’s to be his home but when the rain clears and the blackbirds begin to sing he relishes the tranquility of the countryside around him ‘letting summer soak into me – the smell of summer and summer sounds.’ and determines to live simply and be happy.

From the top of his ladder in the bell-tower he can see Charles Moon an archaeologist, living in a bell tent in the meadow, digging for a medieval grave. The two become friends and Tom is soon accepted by the locals including the Ellerbeck family and their Chapel community, the troubled vicar in whose church he’s working and his beautiful wife Alice. It’s a time of rabbit-and-potato pie for dinner and seed cake, greengage pie and ‘scalding tea in a can’ at 4 o’clock. The slow sultriness of a hot summer day pervades every page, emotions are heightened and time seems to stand still:

‘The butterfly flew into the air once more. For a moment it seemed that it might settle on the rose in her hat, but it veered off and away into the meadow. The sound of bees foraging from flower to flower seemed to deepen the stillness.’ Continue reading “A Month in the Country”

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell To ArmsI read this hot on the heels of War and Peace – could two books be any more different? After Tolstoy’s poetic prose and wise, rambling essays, the simple, seemingly unsophisticated style of Hemingway felt brutal.

Written in 1929 this largely autobiographical novel is written in the first person as Lieutenant Frederick Henry remembers serving as a paramedic in the Italian army during the first world war. There is a  world weariness about it, as he recalls the actions of a group of men, his desertion from the army and his growing romance with Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. Continue reading “A Farewell to Arms”