At Break of Day
Ho-hum, thinks the reader – yet another novel about the Great War. Misgivings increase when the story, starting on the morning of 1st July 1916 at the Somme, describes the huge explosion of Hawthorn Ridge, the anxious faces of the waiting soldiers and then the sound of birdsong with the silencing of the artillery. But as you would expect from Elizabeth Speller, who wrote the excellent The Return of Captain John Emmett, this is certainly no lazily derivative tale. It is beautifully observed story of the experiences of four men who are enlisted to fight in this most terrible of conflicts. Three Englishmen and one Frenchman, the narrative switches between their separate stories, culminating in that fateful day in July 1916 in northern France. There are a number of pasts to escape from and secrets underlying these men’s backgrounds, two of whom are privileged and wealthy and two from a poorer upbringing.
There are number of fairly massive coincidences which link threads of the four narratives together. Coincidences occur in life and are statistically certain to happen, but it can appear a little contrived when they pop up with high frequency in a novel. Nevertheless, the characters and the environment have that essential sense of authenticity sense that enwraps the reader fully in the plot.