Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

Isn’t it funny how something in your real life can lead you down a different reading path than the one you were expecting? I was planning to make a start on ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffery Eugenides earlier in the week when I received a text from my big sister Holly asking if I wanted to go and see the stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks ‘Birdsong’ in the West End on Friday (today) as her acting agency have a lot of their members as cast in the show. Naturally I couldn’t turn down time with her or the change to go and see a show and so I said yes, and will actually be on the way there when you read this. The thing was though I hadn’t read the book, which has been languishing on my TBR for about 4 years, so with slight trepidation to its size and subject matter I thought ‘right I shall pick it up and read it now’ and wow was it a real reading experience!

‘Birdsong’ is such a wonderful novel that when you try and write about it, and this is my sixth edit, you never feel like you could do it justice without simply telling people to go and read it. However people might want to know a little more about it and I shall try and furnish the finer detail for you a little without giving anything away. Or you could stop reading here and simply go and grab the book if you haven’t already. Anyway, I digress…

As ‘Birdsong’ opens its first of seven parts we are in Amiens, France in 1910. Here we follow Stephen Wraysford as he joins Rene Azaire to spend time in his textile factory at the behest of his benefactor in England. Not only does he spend time in Azaire’s empire he also lives with his family including daughter Lisette, son Gregoire and second wife Isabelle. This is Faulks way of not only setting up life in middle class France before the First World War but also the first dimension of the story as Stephen embarks on a dangerous and secret love affair with one of the women of the household.

The second part of the novel is set six years after the latter parts dénouement as we rejoin a slightly altered Stephen as he fights in the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, his previous years have turned him cold and dedicated so much to the war, for escape I felt, that he will take no leave and seems to want to fight fiercely all he can. The battle rages and soon as Stephen is let in on a sad secret of the next part of their fight, and therefore we the reader learn the same, we follow the war in the most realistic fictional account I have ever read of it. The reader then follows Stephens story through both his eyes and the eyes of his granddaughter in the 1970’s and just when you think the story couldn’t unfold anymore it does and not the way you might expect.

It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down. 10/10

I loved this book and read it in three sittings, I don’t think I can put it any simpler. I was carried away by the love story, equally horrified and gripped by Faulks war scenes and left quite bereft when I finished the final page. I am sure I am preaching to the converted and you have all read this already, however if you haven’t then you must… in fact go, go right now and get it. I am just left wondering which of the novels of Sebastian Faulks to read next and if any could ever compete with this one? Maybe I should have read it last rather than have it as my first read of his work? Though of course I could read everything else and return to this one, which I think I will definitely do at some point. Will the play do it justice I wonder?

This is a book I have had on Mount TBR for about 4 years and always meant to read… how many more like this might I unwittingly own I wonder?


Filed under Books of 2010, Review, Sebastian Faulks, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

19 responses to “Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

  1. I’m like you – Birdsong has been languishing on my shelves for years and I keep meaning to pick it up… That’s why a 3 years plus rule of cull is no good to me as there are many gems in my collection that I have yet to discover for myself.

    I was convinced a long time ago that Birdsong was a book that I must read but you have definitely reiterated that. Now I simply need to read it at long last…

    I studied trench warfare at school and read so many powerful, devastating accounts. The war poets cannot be surpassed but I have heard that Birdsong comes incredibly close in fiction.

  2. I’ve had this on my own tbr for a few years so perhaps I will pick it up soon… but first I have another pile I need to read!

  3. I am so glad this made it out of TBR for you (and Claire, if you read this, you must get it out of yours). It is a wonderful wonderful book. Please will you let me know what you think of the play as I’m wondering about going to see it.

  4. I do like his works and have read several of his books. I especially like books set in that era, so will have to read Birdsong.

    Lil Bit Brit

  5. This really proves the point I made a day or two ago about not culling the TBR of books you haven’t read for a year! I think Birdsong is the best of Faulks’ novels — it was my first and I haven’t enjoyed any of the others nearly as much. I hated Enderby and could not finish it. Quite liked Blue Dolphin Street.

  6. Bet

    I loved Birdsong, but I am pretty sure I loved Charlotte Grey even more (it’s been a long time since I read them). I rarely take the time to write out quotes from a book, but I wrote down two long passages from CG. So read that next!

  7. This is his best by far, I have read it twice and will probably read it again. I must admit that the first chapter is ever so slightly pants, but the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

  8. Dot

    I read Birdsong when I was 15 and I think that it is one of those books that you always remember. Sebastian Faulks weaves the different threads of his story together so well, I look forward to hearing what you thought of the stage adaption.

  9. Just finishing the last few pages. It’s been a good read.

  10. Deb

    I read ENGLEBY this year and liked it very much (in fact, so far it’s in the top ten of my favorite reads of 2010); I love his evocation of the 1970s & 1980s (my guess is he kept extremely detailed journals during that period–his details are spot-on). My library has BIRDSONG, so I will have to trot along and check it out soon.

  11. Your review was so convincing that the first thing I did when I got to work this morning was grab Birdsong off the shelf. Thanks!

  12. louise

    I read this book a few years ago and it is in my top ten books of all time. I’d not studied History at school and never really had a full understanding of life in the first World War and this book really made me think about it and made me realise just what people went through during those times. I’ve not read many other SF books – I tried ‘A Week in December’ and got about 100 pages from the end and then comletely lost interest.

  13. m

    I don’t think he’s ever matched Birdsong.

  14. Pingback: Books of 2010 Part One… « Savidge Reads

  15. Loved Birdsong, the writing was amazing. I didn’t have this in my TBR list but was lucky enough to have an awesome co worker led me her copy. I was similarly thrown off by the addition of the secondary plot but still enjoyed reading the book.

  16. Bookwork@boscol

    I am studying Bridsong for my A2 Literature course, and I couldn’t put it down once I started reading.
    Faulks’ writing is so realistic and invigorating, it just sucks you in as you start reading.
    For years I was told to read this novel, and never did until this summer. I can’t believe what I’ve missed out on, such amazing writing should be read by all.

  17. Please can some one tell me if Stephen ever knew Françoise was his daughter. I may have missed this part of the story and much as I would love to read it again I hope to find the answer here.
    Many thanks,

  18. David Edwin Radcliffe

    FAO Stephjen Fordham,
    In the TV adaptation,Jeanne tells Stephen that Francoise is his daughter…………..

  19. Many thanks David,
    I watched the final episode last night.
    Although the ending was different to books adaption I still found the story very emotional.
    Hoping to go to France in the spring and go to the Lochnagar Crater Memorial at La Boisselle.
    Kind regards,

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