Kenneth Branagh's Bookshelf
By Sebastian Faulks
The author has taken a subject that is much written about and filmed—World War I—and explored it in a particularly fascinating way with this story of the tunnelers, the men who dug beneath the front lines. Our chief image of this war, if you think about it, is of people attacking from trenches, and we feel we know that awfulness and desolation. Less familiar is the idea that you might be tunneling under no-man's-land, a few feet away from a German tunnel, but the enemy hears you first and blows you up. The claustrophobia of that experience, described to us by the main character, Stephen, is striking and horrifyingly realized. Although I initially found the stuttering and jumping between the battle and Stephen's passionate encounters with his lover Isabelle a little jarring, by the end I felt the stories added up to something outsize, something ambitious with pleasing rough edges.