23 September 2015

Birdsong


The blurb: A novel of overwhelming emotional power, Birdsong is a story of love, death, sex and survival. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in Amiens in norther France in 1910 to stay with the Azaire family, and falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters, and Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front. His love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, he experiences the unprecedented horrors of that conflict - from which neither he nor any reader of this book can emerge unchanged.

Rating: ★★★★★

"It was not his death that mattered; it was the way the world had been dislocated. It was not all the tens of thousands of deaths that mattered; it was the way they had proved that you could be human yet act in a way that was beyond nature."

Birdsong has been on my list of books I need to read for the longest time, so when I spotted this WW1 Centenary edition a few months ago I finally picked it up. I'm so glad that I did, because this has to be one of the most intense, most moving and most memorable books I've ever read. It's no surprise to me that it now forms part of both History and English syllabuses because it's an amazing piece of literature.

Anyone who has studied history will know a little about the experiences of the soldiers who fought but Sebastian Faulks brings this to life in a whole different way. It's a strong, emotive story, in which the harsh realities of battle and trench warfare are described so vividly that I was easily able to imagine being there alongside the characters. Faulks doesn't pull any punches and it's very shocking in places, with some parts hard to digest. I liked that the book is inclusive of all different kinds of experience of war, from the soldiers going 'over the top' to those who served underground, digging tunnels for mines and shells. I actually felt quite claustrophobic reading those parts, which just goes to show Faulks' skill as a writer. In fact, I probably held my breath for at least the last 50 pages, and more than once before that point!

The book is split into three parts and is both a tragic love story and an epic tale of war. The first part is all about Stephen's life in France before war broke out and his affair with Madame Azaire. Once the war has started, the story alternates between the front line and England in the 1970s, concentrating on Stephen's granddaughter trying to piece together his story. I think this was a great way to link to the present day and also broke up the narrative quite nicely where otherwise it might have been too heavy a read.

Overall I came away from reading this with a general feeling of awe, a new understanding of the total senselessness of war, and even more respect for those who fought than I had before. I think this is a very important book and one that will definitely stay with me for a long time.

Too long, didn't read? Here's my Goodreads review:

BirdsongBirdsong by Sebastian Faulks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tense and deeply affecting story of the atrocities of WW1, with an important message about the senseless nature of war. This book will stay with you long after you finish reading.

View all my reviews
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