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Birchwood [Paperback]

John Banville
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
Price: 6.56 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

6 Aug 2010

Once the big house on an Irish estate, Birchwood has turned into a baroque madhouse for its ruined inhabitants. One disaster succeeds another, until young Gabriel Godkin runs away to join a travelling circus and look for his long-lost twin sister. Soon he discovers that famine and unrest stalk the countryside, and Ireland is ruined too.

Birchwood represents a watershed in contemporary Irish writing: it is a novel in which history becomes a rich black comedy full of land agitation and Gothic characters; and a sense of bewilderment at the nature of the universe fills its pages’ Colm Tóibín

‘John Banville is one of the great masters of the . . . English language’ Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman

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Birchwood + Dubliners (Penguin Modern Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New Ed edition (6 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330372327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330372329
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 90,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fifteen novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin.

Product Description

About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fourteen previous novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing from first page to last! 10 Oct 2009
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."

Birchwood is a book that 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.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Written by a true master of language 5 July 2011
I only recently discovered John Banville after reading The Book of Evidence, Copernicus and the Infinities, and soon ordered everything else that he has written. I rarely write reviews for books, but Birchwood had me so entranced in its lyrical spell that I wanted to tell eveyone interested in great literature about this little gem.

With its father-son relationship, insanity and violence, Birchwood reminds me of Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel. With a little less gore and mutilations (but certainly not without them). The language is equally breathtaking so that even death captivates. It's a world of magical realism set among circus folk but a world deprived of laughter; there are no happy clowns here throwing pies in your face - the tone is sinister and the clowns malevolent. The language spellbinding. 175 pages that you don't want to end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing 16 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Another superb piece of literature from John Banville.
In some passages the use of words borders on poetic.
The story has great pace and feeling.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story filled with many small and big pleasures 24 July 2007
By Armchair Interviews - Published on
The novels of John Banville cannot be read in a rush. His phrases are achingly beautiful and so densely packed that they demand slowness and savoring. Birchwood, one of his earliest novels, from 1973, re-released in a Vintage International edition, is no exception.

Drawing on his Irish roots, Banville has set Birchwood on an estate by that name in Ireland. Gabriel Godkin is a man returned to his family's ruined estate, looking back through his childhood at the truths of his family and his country. Through an extended flashback, we see Gabriel struggle with a cold father, a crazed mother and grandmother, all wobbling on the edges of an insanity that Gabriel acknowledges runs through his own blood. At the same time, in the background, we see Ireland falling apart as the people starve through the potato famine, the landed gentry lose their precarious place in the society, and Gabriel escapes from his family and finds his way into the traveling circus.

Through this strange transition from landed gentry to itinerate performer, Banville allows Gabriel to explore the idea of family-the ones we are born into and with whom we are forever connected by blood, and the ones we cobble together in the courses of our strange lives-and come to terms with his own self and his history.

Banville is a master at developing characters and exploring their interior landscapes while the characters are exploring some exterior one. Poetic and careful, he affords the reader a series of small pleasures as he describes and conjures interesting people and places.

Early in the novel, Gabriel explains " was as if in the deep wood's gloom I had recognized, in me all along, waiting, an empty place where I could put the most disparate things and they would hang together." The novel Birchwood also has such places, recognized by Banville, where he has carefully placed, for the reader to discover, disparate things-the ideas of family and home, the Irish potato famine, and the circus, of all things-that hang together beautifully.

Armchair Interview says: Well worth the read of this reissued book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable 5 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on
I read this straight after 'The Book of Evidence' and although it didnt captivate me to the same degree, it is nevertheless a well crafted piece of literature. The author has an awesome talent for creating interestingly offbeat characters. I look forward to reading more.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars birchwood by john banville 9 Mar 2006
By banville fan - Published on
Thoroughly enjoyed book. dig a little deeper, think a bit harder. beautiful prose, poignant symbolism viewed from a younger perspective with some dark humour thrown in. john banville sings to you.
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely awful edition 1 Aug 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Great works of literature deserve to be treated with respect, something this Kindle edition does not do. I am 18% of the way through, and long ago stopped asking myself whether the apparent typos were Banville's choices, or publisher errors. They are all the latter. This edition is endemic of the problem with the digital book: many publishers wanted to jump on a potential opportunity to cash in, without taking the time to transfer their catalogue with anything remotely approaching the care necessary. As a lifelong lover of literature and therefore frequent customer of many publishers, I am disheartened and disgusted. If your job is to publish books, then I should not have to ask that you do it correctly.
5.0 out of 5 stars Banville worth reading 1 July 2013
By Helen - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an early work of John Banville and introduces us to many of his themes. As usual, his writing is haunting and excellent.
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