4 May 2013

REVIEW: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Title: Birdsong
Author: Sebastian Faulks
Publication Date: April 3rd 2012 (first published 1993)
Publisher: Vintage
Format: Paperback
Pages: 503
Rating: 4/5
Blurb: 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.
Review: I’ve known about this book for some time, after discovering the BBC mini-series trailer on YouTube one day. The trailer looked absolutely amazing to me and its definitely fits into my ‘go-to genre/era’ which spans from World War One to World War Two. In addition to that, the mini-series stars two of my favourite actors/actress at the moment- Eddie Redmayne from Les Mis and Clemence Poesy from Harry Potter (and some seriously awesome French films). However, I was surprised to learn that no one had ever really heard of this book or the mini-series.

The book itself is split into seven parts, ranging from 1910 to 1979 and is set between England and France. I found at moments, though set in slightly different time periods, that Birdsong and my favourite book at the moment, Atonement by Ian McEwan, had some similarities in the way they were set out, though this might be due to the fact I was reading the two books simultaneously. As much as I enjoyed Birdsong, I do prefer Atonement (in case you were wondering). This review, however, is not a comparative essay between the two novels so I will leave it at that.

I really enjoyed the setting of the novel. Rather than the French parts being set in Paris, they were set in Amiens (which is a little bit out of Paris) which I thought was something nice and different to other novels I’d read set in France. I especially enjoyed learning about the town, it’s buildings, it’s culture and it’s landscape. While these factors didn’t necessarily draw away from the plot, I found they added to the enjoyment of the novel. The description of the trenches and the battlefields were amazing and almost haunting.

The characters were perhaps the biggest ‘issue’ of the novel for me. I found I sort of had a love/hate relationship with them, I found that I enjoyed some of the minor characters in the book more than I liked the main ones. I absolutely hated the character of Isabelle by the end of the novel, in the first part I felt a bit sorry for her, but I also respected her and enjoyed reading about it, but as the novel moved along I lost more and more empathy for her. Stephen and Elizabeth were much better, though at times they both did things that bothered me and other times I felt extreme pity for them, especially Stephen during the war.

All in all, I really did enjoy the novel though I would have preferred a different ending- I won’t say what happened, but I’ll leave it with the fact that I didn’t feel it did justice to the rest of the novel. Also, I was hoping to watch the mini-series and include a review of that as well in relation to the book but sadly I ran out of time to include it with this post. I will hopefully get a chance to watch it early next month and will post my thoughts of that then.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of Birdsong, you can find on the Book Depository (with free shipping worldwide) here.