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Birdsong (1993)

by Sebastian Faulks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: French Trilogy (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,7021501,457 (3.98)473
Set before and during the great war, Birdsongcaptures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.… (more)
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» See also 473 mentions

English (147)  Dutch (3)  All languages (150)
Showing 1-5 of 147 (next | show all)
It's a book that is full of the possibility of emotion, but it falls short. With cliched scenes, predictable plot, and long, sterile descriptions, the novel lingers on and on. The ending was foretold so long before it happened that I lost all interest; there is no suspense.
After p. 350 it finally picked up, and there are some very beautiful and poignant scenes, but at that point it was too late for me.
I recommend instead, [Un long dimanche de fiançailles] by Sébastien Japrisot. ( )
  Cecilturtle | May 24, 2022 |
Birdsong is a novel consisting of several arcs that alternate between the passionate tryst of Stephen Wraysford and Isabella Fourmentier, the inhumane, destructive spoils of World War I, and a woman whose curiosity is piqued after reading an article about the anniversary of the Armistice.

Stephen encounters Isabella during his tenure at her husband's house. The other invited guests display gross, ostentatious personas that he strongly dislikes. Stephen is described as a dispassionate character, whose distant facade conceals a barely suppressed emotional volatility. Isabella, an elegant trophy housewife possessing a quietly willful streak, is equally attracted to him, but is frightened by what their encounter beholds. Still, they carry on with their affair, and finally elope, causing a social uproar. Isabella soon discovers that she's pregnant, has second thoughts, and secretly returns to her sister's house. Stephen doesn't hear from her again, until much later, when he meets her sister Jeanne by accident. In the meantime, Stephen is crushed by Isabella's abrupt departure. After enrolling into the army during World War I, he finds his emotional and physical fortitude pushed to the extremes.

The war scenes are described too well to a disturbing extent. The soldiers end up becoming grotesque playthings of flesh, as wave after wave of them are killed. The remaining soldiers have to relive the horror of waking up every day to an uncertain fate. As the soldiers forge strong bonds over battles, women and the brief respites of rest, they are aware of how laughingly tenuous these relations are. Even when they return to their homes, they find themselves isolated by their unwilling burden, their minds suspended in the fight-or-die response of war, tired beyond breaking point. The ones that do survive harden themselves emotionally to survive the physical and emotional onslaught, but this repression inevitably becomes traumatic. Brennan, a WWI veteran, lives out much of his entire life incoherent, his mind forever frozen in the early 1910s'.

This is my first Faulks novel and it's written in an obsessively microscopic, yet curiously detached manner. I'm not yet sure how to feel about this, although it's a solid work on its own merits. The nearest feeling I could come to is a fascination? ( )
  georgeybataille | Jun 1, 2021 |
I was not able to get into this one - after 70 pages, the story was still not really happening, though there were signs of working class French political movement. This is supposed to focus on WWI, so may be of interest to others because of that. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
I was expecting a little more from this book based on the reviews I'd read. It was well written, poignant, captivating. However there were times when the details were skimmed over and other places where the details were given too much weight and time in the book. It claims to be a story about love, but I'm not sure about that. There was love in the story, but there was an emphasis on the war, a little too much for me. A small but annoying feature of the book is that it's divided into segments but there is no table of contents. Why bother if you don't have a table of contents? Some of the characters were fleshed out a little better than others, but that could have been my memory as well. It was really long and I was very ready for it to end. The ending was very satisfying, though and I actually cried about the baby's name. ( )
1 vote bcrowl399 | Jul 30, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 147 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sebastian Faulksprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Modick, KlausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perria, LidiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, SamuelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.' Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
Dedication
For Edward
First words
The boulevard du cange was a broad, quiet street that marked the eastern flank of the city of Amiens.
Quotations
Madame Azaire had not fully engaged Stephen's eye
I am driven by a greater force than I can resist. I believe that force has its own reason and its own morality even if they may never be clear to me while I( am alive
A few yards further on they disinterred Wilkinson. His dark profile looked promisingly composed as Stephen approached. ...but as they lifted him, they turned his body and Stephen saw that his head was cut away in section , so that the smooth skin and the handsome face remained on one side , but on the other were the ragged edges of a skull from which the remains of his brain were dropping onto his scorched uniform.
It was like a resurrection in a cemetery twelve miles long. @Bent agonised shapes loomed in multitudes on the churned earth, limping and dragging back to reclaim their life.
He seemed a man removed to some new existence where he was dug in and forified by his lack of naturak feeling or response
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Set before and during the great war, Birdsongcaptures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.

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Book description
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. (0-679-77681-8)
Haiku summary
Brave soldiers digging
claustrophobic tunnels. Trench
warfare on both sides.
(passion4reading)

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