Newest Review: ... now. ---------------- My thoughts ---------------- This novel would have, indeed, should have, received 5* from me. The scenes of war des... more
"No child or future generation will know what this was like"
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Member Name: BitterFusion
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Advantages: Excellent prose, engaging, thought provoking
Disadvantages: An awkward futuristic plot line
The plot primarily revolves around the life of Stephen Wraysford at various points throughout his life in France, prior to and during WWI. Initially, we meet Stephen in 1910; he has arrived at the Azaires' house to stay while conducting some work abroad. Whilst there, he embarks on an affair with the young wife of his host, Isabelle, and the two decide to run away together to start a life of their own. However, once away from the Azaire household, Isabelle begins to feel guilty for her actions, and consequently the relationship ceases. Fast forward six years into the future, and Stephen has enlisted himself in the Army, finding himself on the front line. Thus commences a powerful tale of endurance and life as we simply could not imagine now.
This novel would have, indeed, should have, received 5* from me. The scenes of war described by Sebastian Faulks are vivid, gritty and thoroughly gruesome at times. I was transported to a time that is unimaginable, into conditions that I could not fathom and disgusted me. Faulks managed to paint a human picture of life in the trenches; these were men who were accustomed to seeing death all too often. They became hardened to it, despaired at it. The quote used to title this review summarised, for me, Faulks' intentions in writing this novel; Faulks attempted to ensure that readers did not forget the individuals who experienced such hell. Through the various minor characters such as Jack Firebrace and Michael Weir, as well as Stephen's own experiences of war, Faulks reminds us that each individual soldier had his own history and his own story to tell. It is easy, perhaps, for us to learn passively about war in classrooms, or through documentaries. However, Faulks forces us to confront the humanity of the people who fought, and to relive the conditions within which they existed. So powerful are the descriptions of war and the day to day toil within the trenches that, were the novel based solely on the aspects of war alone, I would rate it 5*. However, this is not so.
I do not think that the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle was, itself, unnecessary in the novel. In fact, the contrast between the passionate elation felt between the lovers and the stark, despairing thoughts Stephen endures in the trenches only emphasises the brutality of war. Indeed, the descriptive powers of Faulks excellently demonstrates the humanity of these two individuals, overcome with lust for each other. As a reader, I willed their relationship to succeed. Thus, the emotive power of their affair definitely impacted the story well.
However, the one aspect that did disrupt the overall success of this novel, in my opinion, was the occasional flash forwards to the 1970s. In these short sections, Elizabeth, who is later revealed as Stephen's granddaughter (although this is painfully obvious to all reading), for no apparent reason, is suddenly intent on discovering what it was to fight in WWI. Among her own personal relationship problems, she embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about her grandfather. These sections were, I believe, intended by Faulks as a way to nudge the conscience of the reader, and to emphasise the fact that we should not forget about our own ancestors who may have fought in the war, and their individual stories. While I can see why he included her in the novel, I felt her sections simply interrupted what was otherwise an engaging story. Her own plot line was more akin to something in the chick lit genre, and felt out of place compared to the stark graphic descriptions of war. Indeed, perhaps Faulks meant it as a way in which to give the reader respite from the heavy main plot line. However, if so, I felt it was unnecessary and an annoyance.
For that reason, I am giving Birdsong 4*. 1970s flash forwards aside, this novel is certainly worth picking up for an engaging and powerful experience of life in WWI. Thoroughly recommended.
Summary: An absorbing tale of love and war