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?