Tag Archives: Birdsong

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?

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

Adaptations

Since reading ‘Jane Eyre’ and going to the theatre this weekend to see ‘Wicked!’ once again, which ties in more with Thursday’s post, I have had adaptations on the brain. In fact since I have put Jane Eyre’ down I have actually been itching to start it all over again, however with a rather large TBR and long lists to re-read and book group choices to fit in I cant really justify an instant re-read. I shall simply have to make do with knowing I have a joyful re-reading to look forward to in a year or so. I do have the BBC adaptation on DVD though…

However can an adaptation, be it a TV series, play or film, ever really do the original justice? My mind instantly falls to the amazing and epic BBC version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ staring Colin Firth which I introduced The Converted One too a few weeks back and we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The irony of that choice by me as a great adaptation is of course that I have never read P&P so how would I know if it was a good version or not? I do have friends who are complete P&P lovers (see Rose Roberts for one) who say it is an exemplary adaptation. I will read it one day and find out I swear I will. I loved ‘Bleak House’ as well when that was on, haven’t read that either, but do we have to have read the book to say if an adaptation is good or not?

Any TV show can appeal just because the directing, acting, production etc, etc is so good (the same with a play or a film of course) or because it has one of your favourite actors in it so of course this can apply to an adaptation. Some may say the best adaptations come because the stories are so good but I think we could all think of a few adaptations which a quarter or half way through we have had to turn off or run from the theatre/auditorium screaming. Ok, maybe not screaming – you get my drift.

I myself need to have read something first, well if I know it has come from a book that is for sometimes we don’t. I did actually ask on twitter if ‘Downton Abbey’ (which is a marvellous new period drama starring Dame Maggie Smith we have here in the UK) was originally a book, it seems not its something wholly original and new though having watched the first episode I do wish there was a book. Some people can never be pleased can they? Anyway as I need to read things before I see them (on the whole) I have started ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro after seeing the trailer for the film which looks very good even if Keira ‘Pout = Acting’ Knightley is in it.

I have also lined up ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks as it has not long opened as a play in London and its something I really, really want to see and I book I have been meaning to read for absolutely ages and ages. Everyone I know who has read it has loved it and said that they think I would too. Do any of you have opinions on that as a book choice for my future reading?

So which is my favourite adaptation? Well for me it would have to be Hitchcock’s version of Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’. It could actually have gone horribly wrong for me as it is my favourite book, however Hitchcock did it superbly, and I think he and Du Maurier had an affinity on this particular project I have to say. My worst? Well, that would be the recent film of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ actually I didn’t think anyone except from Mrs Bennett  could act in it, and that horrid final scene at Chatsworth Pemberley after the wedding on the terrace almost made me reach for a sick bag.

So which adaptations do you love and loathe? Do you think an adaptation can only truly be judged or enjoyed by those who have read the book? Are there any adaptations you are eagerly awaiting? Which books do you hope never get adapted? Have you seen any adaptations that were better than the books (such as ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ for example – ha)?

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