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The First of July

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  386 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
On July 1st, 1913, four very different men are leading four very different lives.

Exactly three years later, it is just after seven in the morning, and there are a few seconds of peace as the guns on the Somme fall silent and larks soar across the battlefield, singing as they fly over the trenches. What follows is a day of catastrophe in which Allied casualties number almos
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published November 14th 2013 by Pegasus Books (first published 2013)
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Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oh, my goodness!! This novel was astonishing and mesmerizing! It took my breath away. Do read this book; you'll be glad you did!

This novel begins in 1913; then World War I breaks out and leads up to the Battle of the Somme [which "began on the middle day, of the middle year of the War", July 1, 1916], the battle itself and aftermath. This is the story of four different men from different social classes: the Englishmen, Benedict, gentle organ student at Gloucester Cathedral and son of a vicar; F
Diane S ☔
Oct 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Speller certainly has the ability to craft a well-plotted, tightly constructed novel. I found that they way this novel was written was amazing. Four men from diverse backgrounds all find themselves involved in fighting in France during World War I. We first learn about these men from separate chapters, each devoted to one of the men, and thus we learn their hopes and dreams, about their lives and loves and the reader becomes emotionally vested in each of these men.

That is not to say that this is
Elizabeth (Alaska)
The First of July 1916, was the first day of the Battle of the Somme. This was a huge offensive wherein the Allies (mostly British and French in this one) attempted to finally turn the tide against Germany. That first day - one day only - the Allied casualties were enormous: 20,000 British and 7000 French died that day in that one battle. In Speller's prologue, she tells of a camerman making a movie in the silence. That silence was the prelude to the British setting off mines in the tunnels dug ...more
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war
The First of July by Elizabeth Speller is a novel that examines the lives of four men leading up to the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Speller has lived throughout western Europe and currently splits her time between Gloucestershire and Greece. She has written for The Independent, Financial Times, Vogue, and Big Issue. This is her third novel.

I spend quite a bit of time reading World War I books, from Ernest K Gann's In the Company of Eagles which started me in my early teens to Paul Janko
Nov 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the third novel by Elizabeth Speller, a stand-alone novel, following the brilliant; The Return of Captain John Emmet and The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, which feature a character in the years following WW1. This novel follows the fortunes of four very different men, just before and during the First World War.
Next year of course it will be a hundred years since the outbreak of WW1 – so the publication of this novel then is very timely, pulling no punches, it is an emotional, evocative
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
For a book titled, The First of July, this novel has very little do to with the first day of the battle of the Somme and a great deal in leading up to it. Which is ok, we care about the characters when the worst day of their collective lives approaches. At the beginning we meet four different men, three Brits and one Frenchman and follow their lives before and leading up to the fateful day. Their paths cross, sometimes significantly and sometimes just in passing.
The frame is constructed perfect
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stories of 4, very different, men who enlist and towards the end of the novel find themselves in the bloody battle of the Somme in one way or another. Vivid battle scenes mainly from different angles, which made it interesting. Although the stories appear diverse they are linked to each other in different ways. I love Speller's writing - although at the beginning it was hard when the characters kept changing, just when I was getting into their stories, her writing flows. Looking forward to her n ...more
Richard Brand
Sep 25, 2014 rated it liked it
For some reason I never got connected to this book. There are five or six different strands that get woven together as they approach July 1, 1916. The lives of these people are nicely developed. They are from a variety of socio-economic conditions. They have their own histories. But I never became concerned or emotionally interested in any of them. There is a lot of vivid description of the horrors of the trench warfare, and the pain and suffering of the combatants. As one might suspect in a boo ...more
Holly Fetter
Jan 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but it didn't take long for me to be sucked in. I love reading WWI era fiction, and this one didn't disappoint (unlike Wake). I liked how the 4 main characters were connected, yet separate, and didn't feel like a far fetched "you gotta be kidding me" coincidence when their lives intersect. Well done!
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, read-2017
Beginning in 1913, At Break of Day follows the lives of four young men from very different backgrounds whose paths all cross in one way or another, for better or for worse, leading up to and during one fateful day in July 1916, on the bloody first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Skillfully weaving together the four separate story threads into a cohesive, captivating whole, this novel telling of the tragedies of war makes for an enthralling and occasionally heartrending (as well it should, consid
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 1 Aug 27, 2015 08:49PM  
  • Fear: A Novel of World War I
  • The Cartographer of No Man's Land
  • 1914 Days Of Hope
  • Not So Quiet...
  • The Lie
  • Strange Meeting
  • The Shadow of War (The Great War, #1)
  • Goodbye Piccadilly (War at Home #1)
  • Cafe Europa: An Edna Ferber Mystery
  • The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century
  • The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as Witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse
  • The Travels of Daniel Ascher
  • We Shall Not Sleep (World War I, #5)
  • Brigid of Kildare
  • The Virgin's Spy (Tudor Legacy, #2)
  • Paths of Glory
  • Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918
  • The Englishman's Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War I
Elizabeth Speller is a poet and author of four non-fiction books including a biography of Emperor Hadrian, companion guides to Rome and to Athens, and a memoir, Sunlight on the Garden. She has contributed to publications as varied as the Financial Times, Big Issue and Vogue and produced the libretto for a requiem for Linda McCartney, Farewell, composed by Michael Berkeley (OUP). She currently has ...more
More about Elizabeth Speller...