Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
ian

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Recommended Posts

I've just finished this book, and as I couldn't see a thread on it, I thought I'd start one.

 

I'd not read any Sebastian Faulks before, and after several disappointing attemptsin the past at reading "serious" fiction, I approached this book with some trepidation. Would I like it? Would I understand it? It's also worth mentioning that I didn't see the recent BBC adaptation of the story, so I knew almost nothing about the book prior to starting it.

 

The story follows the life of Stephen Wraysford. Beginning in 1910 when he is sent by his employer to Amiens, in northern France to study french textile manufacture. He stays with the family of the factory's owner, Azaire, and begins an affair with Azaire's wife, Isabelle.

 

The narrative then jumps forward to 1916, where Stephen has joined the army and is fighting in the trenches of the Somme. The story then alternates occasionally between this and 1979, where Elizabeth Benson, curious about her grandfather, who she never knew, starts to dig into his past. That's as much of the story as I feel I can tell without spoiling it for someone who hasn't read it.

 

I needn't have worried about enjoying this book. Although I found the initial section, set in 1910 a little slow, the rest of the book is both compelling and incredibly moving. The scenes describing the battle of the somme are very realistic and really bring home the horrors of war. Although the book occasionally jumps from 1916 to 1979, you never discover what happens to any of the characters till the very end of the book. This just makes you want to read "just one more page".

 

I loved this book and would have no hesitation of giving it 5 out of 5.

 

I'd be interested to here other people's views

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read it earlier in the year, and here's what I wrote about it at the time:

 

This was a real page turner of a story. After the bright colours of the Amiens chapters, the muddy, almost monochrome palette of the soldiers in the trenches were such a contrast and reflected the nature of war. The conditions the soldiers worked and lived in, and the horrendous scenes of battle were harrowing to read, as well as portraying the claustrophobia of digging the tunnels under the fields in horrifying detail. A really incredible account of the reality of war.

 

However, I don't think I'm going to be popular with this opinion, but after reading now my fourth Faulks book, I've realised why I never give them top ratings; I don't fully engage with his characters. I don't know why, but for some reason I enjoy reading (most of) them, but as soon as I've finished, the characters are gone. From what I'd been told, I'd thought I was going to take Stephen and Isabelle to heart, and feel a genuine emotional link with their story, but I never did. It was a fascinating book, and took me to places I'd never been, but I never felt that tug of emotion about them as people. I think this is my problem though, as like I've said, lots of people who I respect have told me that they did engage with them, so I'm putting it down to a fault on my part.

 

Overall though, a difficult subject to read, but told in a very approachable way, and I would still recommend it to others, if only to read about the realities and hardship of a war that saw the loss of more than 9 million men, and left those who returned both physically and mentally scarred for the rest of their lives.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend to agree with you Claire. I find that Faulks unwittingly puts a distance between his characters and his readers. I felt no great empathy for Stephen or Charlotte Grey for that matter. However, I thought the second in the Birdsong trilogy, The Girl at the Lion D'or to be exactly the opposite and I felt very deeply for the heroine in that one - it's only a small book but very well written. I have tried reading some of his books since but haven't felt the same about them and "One Week in December" I gave away without finishing it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Girl At The Lion D'Or is one of my favourite of his books I've read, and I'm glad we seem to be on the same wavelength Sue! I know so many people who loved Birdsong that I thought I might be a lone voice. I did finish One Week In December but it was definitely my least favourite, and I found it a real struggle to engage with any of the characters at all. I did like his Bond novel Devil May Care but I guess I already know the character of that one, so was inclined to like it from the beginning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Girl At The Lion D'Or is one of my favourite of his books I've read, and I'm glad we seem to be on the same wavelength Sue! I know so many people who loved Birdsong that I thought I might be a lone voice. .

 

Yes, and what was even better was I picked up that book for 50p in the Oxfam and raved about how I'd got such a lovely bargain. :smile:

 

You might like "The Return of Capt John Emmett" by Elisabeth Speller, if you like evocative World War I books.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm not normally a big reader of war books, and I've had more than my usual fill of them this year, so I'll probably leave it for now, although I'll add it to my wishlist when I'm feeling upto it! Thanks for the recommendation Sue :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd agree that it's hard to empathise with Stephen, but I put that down to him being such a cold, reserved character.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read this last summer and I have very mixed feelings towards it. I struggled through the first part set in Amiens because it seemed choked with detail; a lot of description about the setting but not enough about the characters to make their love story believable. The chapters set during the war were amazing, in my opinion. I felt like with every emotion the characters were going through, I was going through it with them. The climax of this part of the story was one of the best I've ever read, it was an emotional U turn that felt so real, so raw and so poignant. If the book had ended there I think I would have been a satisfied reader. But the parts in 1979 just didn't interest me at all. The characters felt forced and I didn't care for being taken out of the action into such monotony. Unfortunately it's this section of the story which closes book, and I should have just skipped that chapter; it felt like it was written for a completely different reader to the rest of the book.

A few months ago I read On Green Dolphin Street, because I wanted another Faulks novel to compare Birdsong to, and it fell flat for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

However, I don't think I'm going to be popular with this opinion, but after reading now my fourth Faulks book, I've realised why I never give them top ratings; I don't fully engage with his characters.

 

I'm with you chesil.

 

I didn't engage with the love story of the first part - nor could I get into the war in the second.

And I didn't bother reading the the rest :hide:

But again, I think its the fact that I can't engage myself with descriptions of war/battle (I even skipped over the entire chunk in Gone With The Wind) - so in all fairness my opinion on this book deserves to be in the minority.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 I remember reacting quite strongly to this book when I read it some time in C20. It has been a good few years now, but I have three abiding memories:

 

a) The passages concerned with the war itself, and in particular the part played by the Sappersbis enthralling and evocative.

 

b) The love story being an intrusion, seeming to be there just to sell the book,

 

and

c) Reading the birth scene and thinking..."Yes, I get the metaphor, you don't need to use a sledgehammer...it's all about tunnels!"!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×