Birdsong: A Novel Of Love And War
by Sebastian Faulks
by Sebastian Faulks
Publication date: 02 June 1997 by Vintage
Category: Adult Historical Fiction
Keywords: Historical, love, war, WWI
Format: Paperback, eBook
Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man's Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.
Birdsong is the story of two people, Stephen and Isabelle, who fall in love against the backdrop of a lush French landscape. Their affair is brief but intense, with deep repercussions for both. The book is divided into several parts, with the main sections being set 6 years before WWI, during WWI, and much later in 1978.
Birdsong was a somewhat difficult read for me. It was very, very slow and the writing, while beautiful, was overly descriptive and repetitive at times. Surprisingly, the first part of the book was my least favorite. I am normally a huge fan of romance but Stephen and Isabelle's left me cold. Here are two people who are supposed to be passionately in love with each other but I just didn't feel it. There was attraction and certainly lust, but I wasn't sure about love.
I also had a hard time relating to and caring about any of the characters in the book. I found Isabelle to be especially annoying and I could not figure out how such a cold character could elicit passion in anyone. I liked Stephen marginally better. We stay with him through large parts of the book and he grew on my by the end of the book. My two favorite characters were Jack Firebrace and Jeanne. To me, those two were the real heart and soul of the novel and I cared more about them than the two main characters.
Surprisingly, my favorite part of the book was the section during the way. Faulks's writing made me feel like I was right there in the trenches with Stephen and the other soldiers. I felt their fear, joy, and pain. The descriptions of the tunnels and digging were especially harrowing and I got nervous each time they went underground. I liked the way that Faulks showed the different effects the fighting had on soldiers. Some, like Stephen, became detached and weary while others, like Weir, fell into drink and madness. It really brought to life the horrors of war.
I didn't love this book, but it did have some redeeming qualities. While I did not enjoy the plodding narrative or most of the characters, I did find the descriptions of life in the trenches to be utterly compelling and gripping. I would actually get slightly annoyed when it switched from the war to more contemporary part of the novel. I am not usually a big fan of war novels, and this just wasn't my cup of tea. If you're a fan of the genre, you might want to give this one a try. Hopefully you will find it more enjoyable than I did.
You can visit the author at his website www.sebastianfaulks.com.