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Birchwood by John Banville

Birchwood (original 1973; edition 2007)

by John Banville (Author)

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217480,942 (3.63)9
Authors:John Banville (Author)
Info:Vintage International
Collections:Your library
Tags:Ireland, Irish literature

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Birchwood by John Banville (1973)



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Capturing Ireland's famine with a devastating bleakness, the novel coruscates, overflows with elegiac prose. ( )
  Move_and_Merge | Jan 17, 2012 |
This book has very clear echoes of Proust, both in the writing style and in the sense of nostalgia that pervades the story of aristocratic decline. The references are clear and deliberate - in the very first chapter, Banville's narrator refers to his fragments of memory as "madeleines" and talks of his "search for time misplaced."

None of this boded very well for the novel - I had Proust on my night-table for ages, but every time I read it I fell asleep so quickly that I seemed to go backwards as much as forwards. And aristocratic decline strikes me as generally a good thing, so I often struggle to feel much sympathy for the lords and ladies forced to survive in only two houses instead of five.

Birchwood, though, I thoroughly enjoyed. While the writing style is reminiscent of Proust in its dreamy beauty, it clips along at a much faster pace, as does the sometimes bizarre plot of childhood resentments, exploding grandmothers, running off to join the circus, searching for a long-lost sister, etc. Also there's a detachment from the destruction that comes to Birchwood, a sense that it's inevitable and even deserved, a strong context of the social unrest in Ireland at the time.

The writing was brilliant from the first page to the last, and made me want to read a lot more of Banville's work. ( )
  AndrewBlackman | Oct 10, 2009 |
I wonder if there is a category called Irish Gothic, because sure as the night is black, Birchwood reminds me so much of Faulkner's Southern Gothic I had to blink twice to be sure what I was reading.

The prose is beautiful, well it is Banville after all. The first half of the book held me enthralled, however the latter part was a bit disappointing as the "big secret" was telegraphed so early in the book, I thought...surely there must be more to it. Nope, there was not more to it. /shrugs/

One of his shorter novels at only 170 pages, it could have been shorter, cutting out some of the dross of the second half, either that or fleshing out that same latter part to give more depth to some of the peripheral characters.

I do recommend it though for Banville addicts such as myself. :) ( )
1 vote Cateline | Feb 1, 2009 |
John Banville writes exquisite, lyrical prose, while telling an enthralling story. This novel, set in Ireland in the days of the potato famines, is divided into two parts. Gabriel Godkin returns to his ancestral home after the death of his father, and while cleaning up the broken glass and repairing windows, he begins to recall his childhood. As part two begins, the young Gabriel has run away and joined a circus in an attempt to find what he believes to be his lost twin sister. Eventually, the story comes full circle and he returns to Birchwood.

At first glance the two parts of the story seem disjointed, but Banville ties things up neatly at the end. The reality I envisioned in part one, clashed with the reality in part two, but the brief part three resolved all these threads into a neat package.

This is my second Banville (after the Booker prize winning, The Sea). I have four more of his books, so I will be working my way through them in 2009. He has written 13 titles in all, so I will have to track down those others.

If you have never read Banville, start with The Sea. You will be hooked. Five stars

-Jim, 12/27/08 ( )
2 vote rmckeown | Dec 27, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Banvilleprimary authorall editionscalculated
Marsh, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Odi et amo: quare id faciam, fortasse requiris
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

I hate and I love; ask how? I cannot tell you
Only I feel it, and I am torn in two

To the Dunham-Shermans
Stepan-Candaus, and
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 030727912X, Paperback)

An early classic from the Man Booker-prize winning author of The Sea.

I am therefore I think. So starts John Banville’s 1973 novel Birchwood, a novel that centers around Gabriel Godkin and his return to his dilapidated family estate. After years away, Gabriel returns to a house filled with memories and despair. Delving deep into family secrets—a cold father, a tortured mother, an insane grandmother—Gabriel also recalls his first encounters with love and loss. At once a novel of a family, of isolation, and of a blighted Ireland, Birchwood is a remarkable and complex story about the end of innocence for one boy and his country, told in the brilliantly styled prose of one of our most essential writers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of "The Sea" is this classic novel of family, of isolation, and of a blighted Ireland in a remarkable and complex story about the end of innocence for one boy and his country.

(summary from another edition)

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