Monday, December 5, 2011

Book 118: Finished.

I very much enjoy books about war and hardship. I'm not sure which part of me craves knowing the darker side of the human condition, but there is something very powerful about these kind of stories. I think knowing that actual people lived it is what grabs me.

Birdsong is an excellent representation of The Great War, or WWI. It is dark and luminous. It captures the pain of being separated from loved ones on many different levels, and the scenes in the trenches were as gruesome as I expected they would be.

It is a stark contrast from the beginning part of the novel, which I posted about here. In the beginning of the novel, the thought of war, death, and destruction is far from the minds of the main characters. Instead, they are consumed by their own love and desire.

When the narrative switches from love and romance to the trenches of WWI, the novel takes a steep turn in the other direction. It no longer has the beautiful romantic prose, but instead the reader is greeted by stark descriptions of war. Before I began reading, I did a little research on the title. The one thing I found over and over again is that the trench warfare descriptions were some of the most accurate and the most disturbing passages in WWI literature. And while I am not incredibly familiar with ALL WWI lit, I will say that some of the images in the war scenes really got to me. It is hard to imagine that people LIVED in those trenches with such horrid conditions for so long...

Overall, I really loved the novel. It was very passionate and moving.

However, there was one massive issue in the story-telling that I didn't like. After the first part, which was set during the war, the novel then flips between focusing on Stephen in the trenches during the war, and another narrator living in the 1970s. While there is a connection between the two, I found that the later sections jolted me from what I felt the really story was about.

That being said, Faulks did a masterful job combining the two and I walked away understanding why he chose to create the story in that way. It was still powerful and a great representation of the era, in addition to doing something new and wonderful. I definitely recommend giving this one a try of you are at all interested in the era-you won't be disappointed!

*This has been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks. I apologize for the delay.*


  1. I'm still yet to read this, but planning on doing it soon.

    Recently been reading 'Faulks on Fiction' (I pick it up and put it down a lot because Faulks is horrific for ruining the ends of the books I want to read) and he wrote something in his intro about Birdsong, which you might find vaguely interesting:

    Like Winterson, Faulks believes that what matters in reading is not the author, but only the novel itself. He even opens this book with a quote from Flaubert: "L'homme n'est rien, l'oeuvre tout" - The author's life is nothing, it's the work that matters. He writes,

    When I went round the country doing readings after my fourth novel Birdsong came out in 1993, most people could not conceal their disappointment. They had expected me to be 105 years old, French and - in some odd way - female. One man asked me how I knew what it was like to fight at the Battle of Somme. I told him I'd read a lot of documents, visited the site, then made it up. 'You made it up?!' he almost spat at me. He didn't believe me, and neither did anyone else there. They thought I'd found a pile of old papers and passed them off as mine. When the politician Vince Cable recommended Birdsong in a magazine, he assured readers that I had based it on letters of my grandfather that I'd found in an attic. But there were no letters and no attic.
    A subsequent novel, Human Traces, was concerned with the early days of psychiatry. When I spoke to a lunchtime gathering as part of the promotion for the book it seemed that the people present found it impossible to grasp the concept of fiction. They assumed everything in a novel is based on personal experience, which is then lightly, or perhaps not at all, re-written. In trying to persuade them otherwise, I despairingly recounted the story of the Birdsong sceptic and concluded with a heav jest: 'So now I've given up and just admit that yes, I'm really a 105-year-old French woman, that I was parachuted into France for the SOE in 1942 to write Charlotte Grey and wrote Human Traces only because my great aunt was in a lunatic asylum in 1895.'
    There was some sympathetic laughter; but when I was leaving, a woman stopped me, all concern, and asked: "Which asylum was your aunt in?"

    I know this comment doesn't relate to your post in that I'm not sharing my thoughts on what you've written or my thoughts on what I've written, but I'm interested in what Faulks says (though I disagree), so I'll be reading Birdsong soon, with the quote I've just shared in mind (which no doubt will annoy Faulks intently, however I've developed a hatred for him so don't frankly care!).

  2. I have to admit that I have tried to read this a few times and never got into it. I don't know what it is and I will definitely kep trying with it, but something about it just doesn't seem to connect with me.

  3. I've had this book sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now. I hope to pick it up one of these days!