Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Review by Jacqui Slaney
I had always meant to read this book but just never seemed to find the time. I had heard other people raving about it but it was only when the screen adaptation was set to come on the TV that I was actually motivated to pick the book up to see what all the fuss was about.
The book has really three parts to the story, one is set pre war and tells the story of an Englishman Stephen Wraysford, who is sent by his employer to France. He stays in the house of one of the factory owners and becomes close to the family, especially close to the owners younger wife. The second part is actually during the War and then the third part is the story of Stephen’s granddaughter who decides to research her family’s past after finding her grandfathers diaries. The book does not flow straight from past to present, so you have to be prepared for the story to move up and down the time line which is easy to do thanks to the excellent writing.
The pre-war part is a story of the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle the wife of the factory owner, but this theme runs through the whole book as its effect on Stephen stays with him all through his life. The love scenes are quite vivid and very believable with Isabelle drawn to the younger Stephen as her own marriage and life though comfortable is without real passion. At times, I did find Isabelle annoying especially in later parts of the book but the affair is written sensitively and the reader is drawn into their feelings for each other.
The story of Stephen’s life is well done and very moving with the War scenes poignantly captured, you can understand through Faulk’s words the horrors the men had to face digging the tunnels to lay the mines and trench warfare. The descriptions of the attacks and the men’s injuries are graphic and can be quite disturbing to read at times. There are many different characters in the story around Wraysford, but Faulks manages to give them all separate identities. He builds well the friendship between Wraysford and Michael Weir another officer and Weir soon becomes an important figure as he becomes Wraysfords closest friend. Faulks also shows the friendships and understanding that grew between the young officers and the ordinary soldiers themselves. Letters from home are used to give the reader images of the men, and one of the more moving parts is regarding one of the minelayers sons.
The only downside to the whole book I would have to say is the story about the granddaughter. I did not feel that this added anything to the book apart from I suppose showing how Stephens family continued. If anything, I felt at times that it was distracting from the real story of Stephen and his men in the trenches.
I am normally put off by a lot of hype about a book, I have been let down in the past by a story that promises to be wonderful but ends up being a bit of a damp quip. However, with this book, I was lucky; the writing is excellent and descriptive with well-created characters. This is not a long story, but it will stay with you and move you as well.
9 out of 10