I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, thank you!
Perhaps I just read this book at the wrong moment in time for me. I thought it would be a great time, given all the events commemorating the start of the First World War. Perhaps this book just wasn't for me. I haven't decide yet which I think is more likely. But please let me explain why I didn't enjoy a book loved by many others.
First of all, I felt a bit cheated at at the beginning. It's said to be a novel of the Great War, but the first quarter of the book takes place in 1910 France. 1910! Years before the war starts. I understand you need to set the scene in peacetime (perhaps) or at least wish to introduce the main character in peacetime. But this is no longer an introduction, this is 25% of the book! Had it been a very interesting 25% book I might have been forgiving, but it's not. It's a sloppy romance and I can't stand them. I was actually just hoping for the war to begin, which says it all I suppose.
Then we move forward in time to 1916, and the story of the beginning of the war is very summarily given. Stephen was in France, but went back to England at the beginning of the war to help fight the Germans in the British army, and has since gained some ranks. The part about life in the trenches actually is quite interesting, but the writing felt a bit impersonal. This might very well be because Stephen himself isn't a likeable character and he seems to be detached from all that is happening.
Once again I got annoyed when the scene moved to the late seventies and I got information on people who were obviously somehow related (it's easy to guess this correctly) to Stephen in yet another sloppy romance with new characters I couldn't care for either.
These last two stories continue to be told in turns, one more interesting to the other, as the story builds to it's climax. But I was just happy to finish the book because I didn't really like the story and the characters annoyed me. All female characters felt extremely flat and without some kind of own vision. And sexually frustrated Stephen wasn't likeable either. Actually the miners were the only ones who I kind of felt for, and I did feel sorry for them...