Stephen Wraysford starts off a young man in France, of British heritage, trying to learn more on the French textile industry in the early 1900s to bring back to his company in England. He falls in love with his boarder's wife and runs away with her. The novel then moves a few years into the future to World War One. Stephen is part of the British Army, on the front line in France, trying to stay alive. He becomes good friends with Michael Weir, an engineer that commands tunnelers to dig below the trenches and set bombs. The novel skips back and forth in time, even going as far as the late 70's, to Stephen's granddaughter.
The writing of this novel is incredible. The descriptions make you feel like you are there. The depiction of war is horrendous, and I was even starting to feel claustrophobic when Faulks talked about the tunnels that the miners created. The novel makes you realize how little we know about war and how little one could ever know about war if they do not experience it for themselves. That being said, Faulks makes it very clear that no one should ever have to experience. The men on the front lines see death every day and while they don't grow accustom to it, they no longer question it. Soon they begin to grasp for any sort of normalcy and pray that they can return to a real life. For those that were on the line longer, they know there is no turning back. They will never be the same, and they will never be able to discuss their experience with their loved ones.
I was a little put off by the switching in time. There was a lovely love and loss story building up in the first 150 pages or so, then there was a complete 180 to the horrors of war. Once I started to get used to that, Faulks then switched to the late 70s and Stephen's grand daughter.
Overall, I found this book to move a bit too slowly for my tastes. But I'm happy that I did get through it because it does have an overall message about war that I think everyone should read.