During the Second World War a young aviator, James Hunter, in a German POW camp decides to spend his time studying a pair of redstarts to help him get through his time there. He also sustains his spirits by writing letters to his young wife Rose. James has no interest in trying to escape, but the guards become suspicious because he is hanging around the fence to observe the birds. James explains his project to the Commandant who shows an interest, which brings some unwanted attention his way.
Rose who is living in a cottage in the English countryside, has gotten herself a dog for company. The story shifts to Rose’s perspective, and shows that she has met another young airman and fallen in love. She is finding the letters from James describing his study of the birds to be uninteresting and has stopped reading them as she pursues her love affair with Toby. When James’ sister Enid loses her flat she comes to stay with Rose and reveals her own inappropriate relationship and the two are surprised to find they have become friends.
Events unfold for the three characters and we find them again many years later still living with the consequences of their early lives and decisions. In the end all these connections made along the way, pursuing their own particular and ultimately solitary pursuits is what sustains and gives meaning to their lives. Elegant and simply written by an accomplished Canadian author, it is well worth the read.