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152 of 153 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Much Can the Human Spirit Endure?
I read Birdsong about 14 years ago, when it was first published in paperback; it must have impressed me because it stayed on my bookshelf rather than being passed on. This second reading has reminded me why I kept it - it has to be one of the most haunting novels I've ever read, and it kept me reading well into the small hours! The early chapters deal with a love affair...
Published on 17 Jan 2008 by C. Calisgil

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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars two sides
The Great War has a unique piquancy; a rich seam for the thoughtful and well researched author to plunder. Sebastian Faulks joins the ranks to give us his snapshot of life in the trenches and the impact on the generations that follow.
Birdsong for its war, is one well researched novel. The passages of trench warfare are eminently believable, sordid and...
Published on 28 Jun 2004 by mfl


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, disturbing and frighteningly real., 18 Oct 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
The full horrors of trench wafare during WW1 are vividly conveyed by Faulkes in this beautifully crafted novel. Faulkes certainly knows how to make his characters live and breathe on the page, and keep the reader's attention throughout. Unlike many who had found the present day passages concerning the granddaughter's quest to unearth her grandfather's past, slow and unnecessary, I beg to differ. I found them crucial to the structure of the book. They serve a very real purpose in bringing an extra dimension to the narrative, and effectively bring home the simple truth that the passage of time inevitably consigns all events - no matter how horrific - to the history books. This is a compelling and deeply moving piece of fiction that is clearly based on very careful and detailed research. I can think of no other book that so vividly captures the mud and gore of the so-called Great War.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding, unbelievably moving, 11 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
To find yourself rushing home from work so as to once again become embroiled in a novel is surely a true reflection of its quality. This heart rendering tale of the unimaginable horrors of first world war trench fighting is quality from page one to the end. Stephen Wraysford is a gallant Englishman working in France who rescues a trapped and frustrated housewife from the monotony and restraints of her home life. However the affair is doomed from the start due to guilt and recrimination. We then jump forward to the First World War and find Wraysford venting his frustrations on those around him and the German army. Who can fail to be moved by Faulks dscriptions of trench life, fallen comrades and those brief moments of peace when leave was given. It's almost as if Faulks himself had actually taken part in this war. As I finished the book, as each word and line passed me by, my heart bled for those men who fought in this awful conflict. With the very last words I found tears running from my eyes and when I eventually put the book down my thoughts turned to my next book. How could the author of that ever live up to what I had just read. An absolute must!
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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely stunning....., 26 Sep 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
Without doubt, Birdsong is by far and away the best book that I have read all year and is up against some some stiff competition. I was recommended it by a close friend of mine whose taste in books is seldom wrong, and she was right once again. The book is simply stunning. The harrowing narrative about trench life is starkly drawn, and leaves little to the imagination. Faulks portrays the soldiers' lives as hellish because, well, they were. It takes books like this to bring it all home to you about what those millions of people did for us all those years ago and is a living testimony to why the world wars should never be forgotten.
Now I am no historian, and I know that this book has been criticised by some people for its accuracy. Well who cares? If you do, go and read a textbook! The fact of the matter is that this book is not about where and when it happened, but what it was like to live in the worst possible conditions imaginable in a hopeless and unreal existence. Moreover, it shows a true definition of determination and survival. It points out how completely abysmal war really was, and so does it really matter if the occasional date might be incorrect or if the author used the wrong spelling of a French town? I think not.
The book is a breathtaking read from start to finish. You feel the intensity of the love scenes between Stephen and Isabelle and you begin to appreciate really what love could be like. You feel claustrophobic when you read about Jack and the tunnelers, and you feel the anguish when you see various characters watching their comrades being torn apart by sniper fire.
The book is quite amazing and I strongly suggest that you read it. A work of literary brilliance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One fo the greatest books I have read, 22 Aug 2005
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
'Birdsong' could not be any more satisfying. Moving, harrowing and extrememly thought provoking, 'Birdsong' is one of the greatest books to have graced Literature for a long time. Following the lives of Stephen and Jack, Faulks simultaneously interconnects their stories and pas histories that all have a baring on how they view and act in their harrowing duties in the War. Faulk's range of description is vast- from a passionate and deeply emotional love scene in the first 50 pages, to a mind blowing description of the tragic episodes of the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916. It is extrordinary to believe that such a fruitful and fullfilling love scene near the beginning could be contrasted by the scenes of the war- yet this is possible by Faulk's semeless account of Stephen's thoughts. By the end of the novel, it is not Stephen's attitude that has changed, it is his perception of the world that changes as a result of his experiences in the Trenches. Believe me when I say this- you will not be disappointed with this, it is a piece of History that is to be felt by everyone.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars heart breakingly moving, captivating and incredible, 28 Sep 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
I was recommended this book by a friend and since reading it it seems nearly eveyone i mention it to has read it. I am not a serious reader but i read this in no time at all, and once more, was ready to read it again the second i finished it. Despite its great length (for me anyway)i have never been so moved and drawn into a book, or had such a feeling of empathy for the characters. This despite it being set some 80 more years ago. I'm sure most people have felt heated passion or love at some time and most of us know war is a terrible thing many of us are lucky not to have to face in our time. Birdsong is an endearing, beautifully written and most moving story. It is written so well that the pages fly by with ease. The terribly tragic, and all too forgotten era of the great war is brought to life incredibly vividly. One can almost experience the fear during an artillery barrage, taste the tension and anxiety of battle and witness the horror of impersonal, needless, mass slaughter on the somme. Not for the faint hearted i might add. The love story, however, is just as enthralling, it personalises in some way the vast subject of a terrible war in which so many took part and whose lives were forever changed. Although the timeline jumps around a bit it is easy to follow and this only makes it a more inticing read. It is a pity there aren't any more stars i can give this book. Birdsong is a truly emotional experience - it should be on everyone's bookshelf. A tribute to a lost generation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very very very good, 31 July 2008
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
Not since I read Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky have a I wanted to put a book down and away from me because I felt I couldn't take much more. I had about 50 pages to go at the end and had to stop reading because it really was too much to bear - the misery, the pain the sheer guts to keep on living.

It begins quietly though passionately with Stephen's love affair before the war. The sex scenes for me were pretty good and any negative reviews about them here are more to do with the English horror of intimacy whether sexual or emotional than any real criticism. It does not read like a Mills and Boon at all. It's pretty grown up and passionate.

I'm really replying here to some of the unwarranted criticism I've read. Stephen Wraysford, the central character, is not unlikeable as a few reviewers have lazily described. He's a real person. With real struggles and absences in his life and personality. Faulks' creation of Wraysford is masterful as he shows us so many dimensions and complexities but through very simple and direct prose. Wraysford is like any human being you might meet, likeable and unlikeable, a complete portrayal of a human under extreme stress not just in time of war but throughout his life.

Ok, Elizabeth Benson. Those sections fast forwarded to 1978 worked for me. One reviewer said why didn't she settle down with the perfectly nice Stuart. Good lord! Weren't they paying attention! Who would settle for Stuart, slightly arrogant and patronising assuming that all any woman wants is a house in commuter belt Surrey, a stockbroker husband and nice children. Please! Elizabeth is the child of her parents and Faulks conveys that very well.

Anyway, criticism of criticism over. It's an extraordinarily good book. Harrowing and very true to the spirit of humanity and also cleverly placing the development of humankind from there to here for some of us at least.

If you're a conventional middle class reader wanting a neat and tidy blinkered ending you will not really get what happened. It's a great book - five stars.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Birdsong, 27 Jan 2012
This review is from: Birdsong (Kindle Edition)
The book does actually start out as an "intensely romantic" love story. There are almost romance novel worthy (or, really, not being one to read romance novels, what I expect are romance novel worthy) scenes describing the illicit relationship of the main character, Stephen, with his host's wife. After the first section of the book, however, all romance departs as we are plunged into the grimy, depressing, and hopeless trenches of the First World War. The previous romance is barely alluded to; instead, we are swept up in the futile existence of British troops manning the trenches, digging tunnels for mines, and being blown up my enemy shells.

To the author's credit, these descriptions are so vivid that it is possible to imagine what war meant for the soldiers on the front lines. And most heartbreakingly, it is possible to imagine the enormous waste of human lives due to command ineptitude at the Battle of the Somme as wave after wave of young men slowly marched across no man's land to their inevitable demise. In that respect, the novel is not pretty. It is not romantic. It is intensely realistic. And that, perhaps, is what makes the novel worth reading. Because, as a character living fifty years later in the 1970s points out, even then we had already forgotten the wretchedness of trench warfare and the unspeakable horror the soldiers endured on a daily basis.

And so, Birdsong is not intensely romantic. There is romance at the beginning and the end, but it seems disjointed and almost indecent. Towards the end of the novel, one of the characters welcomes death because after what he has seen, he can't imagine going back to his wife and resuming a normal life. In a way, after reading the trench sequences, I thought the same thing: after all that death and destruction, how can the author describe, and how can I imagine, happiness and romance again? Maybe the point is that we have to go on living, have to keep hoping, and have to create our own opportunities for happiness. Whatever the moral is, this book is not a romance. It is a war story through and through. And as a war story, for people who want to know what soldiers actually experienced, it may be worth the read.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving from the first page, 11 Aug 2003
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
I read this book over a year ago in preparation for an A level English Literature exam - it came very highly recommended from everyone who had read it, and they were right. This book opens with a beautifully poignant love story, which some have called trite, but which I found breathtaking. The erotic scenes are passionate but not crude, and the emotion aroused in the reader by the attraction between the pair is incredible. The painfully sad ending to this section (if you're a hopeless romantic, like me) leads perfectly into the next section, where we see Stephen in the war. I have never read literature that touched my heart as much as the descriptions of war in this book. The account of the battle of the Somme was heartrending and terrifying, as was the story of the tunnelers, and Robert Weir's trip home was extremely poignant and painful to read. However, for me it was the ending that really made the book the masterpiece that it is - it truly did take my breath away (it's the hopeless romantic thing again) and I cried for a good few minutes before turning back to the start of the book and beginning again. I love this book. It's literature, not a historical account, so if there are a few mistakes in accuracy, who cares? Suspend reality and throw yourself into this book - become a romantic and feel as the characters feel. I promise you that you will not be disappointed.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Over-whelming, 30 Jan 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: Birdsong (Vintage War) (Paperback)
Undoubtedly the most over-whelming book I have ever picked up. I found the book hard to read at first and wondered what the hype was about. This was perhaps due to its almost perverse detail and apparently random plot. However, as the novel progressed I found myself growing both increasingly affectionate and simultaneously angry at the main character of Stephen. I found it harder and harder to put down as more elements of the plot fitted into place. As I finished the book I felt exhausted, as if I had been there too. It is the most convincing and engulfing story that I have read. A book with the ability to draw you in and force you to observe the hopelessness and tragedy of the war, and one man's inexplicable urge for survival. Faulks has the astounding ability to describe minute observations and express the nature of men. A book so unlike to any other I have read that I am left not knowing what to pick up next.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece - has the style of an Anthony Minghella film, 4 Aug 2004
This review is from: Birdsong
This book lives up to everything that is said about it. It's moving and beautiful. Your imagination is filled with graphic images that Sebastian Faulks describes so well.
The story of a young man, Stephen, who falls in love with a married woman 4 years before the war. His love for this woman ignites into a passionate love affair. A nice initial read for women but if you're a senstive man this may tickle your taste buds. You may wonder why this book starts off where it does but it's because it describes of how a man's character can be transformed.
At the end of the first part, you see Stephen in the trenches as an officer before the Somme. It shows the life the soldiers lived and how tiresome it was. Very moving. One of Stephen's men is wounded and as the man fades, Stephen tries to keep him awake, talking uncontrollably until the man passes out. The characters are great. Weir, his odd friend and Jack, a miner. It ends with the first day of the Somme which is panoramic as it is terrible and chaotic.
A subplot is inserted. In the 70s, you see Stephen's grand daughter tracing him. Ironically, she is having an affair with a married man.
A book of a man's will to survive even though he has no reason to live, Birdsong is one of the greats among books, having the style of an Anthony Minghella film. A book that has to be read.
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Birdsong (Vintage War) by Sebastian Faulks (Paperback - 7 July 1994)
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