141 of 142 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
47 of 53 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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141 of 142 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 in which the author so clearly recreates the sense of overwhelming desire and reckless behaviour that accompanies true passion. This, however, is only the start of Stephen Wraysford's story, for we soon move on to his involvement as a young officer in the First World War and this, for me, is what makes the novel such an amazing work. Knowing that the fiction was based on real events, together with the vivid descriptions, makes the story so very moving. It's not just a chronicle of events though, Sebastian Faulks is a master of detail, which makes the readers feel they're actually there, in the mud of Flanders - there were times when I too held my breath and envisaged how the fear must have felt. The penultimate chapter was so moving, it reduced me to tears and this, for me, is unusual! Reading and remembering the words of old men from my childhood, it's hard to believe that little more than 20 years later, man embarked on a Second World War and, after both those events, it seems incredible that man has still not learned his lesson! I would urge everyone to read this novel, and if you've already done so, then read it again!
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply moving novel,
By A Customer
Birdsong is set during the 1st World War and despite being a story, its historial and geographical content is accurate.
It tells the story of Stephen Wraysford and the events that shape his life. Starting in pre-war France and moving on in time, it deals with Stephen's experiences in love and war. The novel incorporates Stephen's friendship with Michael Weir, a fellow soldier and also includes the stories of other soldiers that fight alongside them.
This is a graphic and detailed novel. Faulks describes in detail the events that these soldiers lived through on a daily basis. Despite the disturbing nature of some of these scenes, the novel is so beautifully and cleverly written that it is compulsive.
Faulks ties in the events of Stephen Wraysford during the First World War to modern life with the quest of Stephen's Grandaughter, Elizabeth, to trace her past and seek out what happened to her Grandfather. She does this when she discovers the journals that her Grandfather wrote during the war.
The novel is structured so that it moves forward and back in time and reminds the reader of the benefits we have today because of the sacrifices made by so many men.
It is a poignant and moving novel and one which brings home the realities and the true atrocities that the soldiers of the First World War suffered. Once read, it will never be forgotten.
82 of 85 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful war novel,
This review is from: Birdsong (Hardcover)
This a such a powerful war novel.
I will justify this statement, not by repeating the things other people have said but through highlighting just one passage that really moved me.
This is when Michael Weir - Stephen Wraysford's closest wartime friend - goes home on leave to his parents in Leamington Spar. Weir has experienced death, squalor, disease, and utter degredation in the trenches. Yet his family cannot understand or respond when he tries to convey these experiences to them. It is beyond their imagination - as it is ours - that men could tolerate such conditions. Instead we see his parents treating him as if he has just been up to town for the week. They rebuke him, for example, for not telling them exactly the time he would be arriving. His mother fusses over him like a child: "You look a bit thin, Michael. What have they been feeding you on over in France?" You sense Weir's desperation as he realises that he cannot communicate any of the reality of the war to his family. This is so moving and heart-wrending. One can really believe that it was like that for so many men and their families when the war, for the British people, was "over there".
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but a brilliant read,
I read Birdsong after seeing it in the Top Ten of the BBC's Big Read. I have to say for the first section of the book, about Stephen's affair with a married women in Amiens, I wondered what all of the fuss was about. I found the French characters, such as the Berards and Monsieur Azaire, in this section a bit stereotypical and, while the affair was well written, I was a bit unconvinced by some of the turns of events. The sections about Azaire's business just did not interest me at all, and some of the characters just grated on me. Its not that this section of the book is particularly weak, I just found that I struggled to get into the story at all, or to like any of the characters, and almost had to force myself to persist.
However, I am glad that I did stick with this as the rest of the book totally changed my mind. The descriptions of life in the war are very moving and many of the characters beautifully drawn. It really brings home the horror of war reading a book that is clearly well researched and that describes trench life so realistically. I did not like the character of Stephen in the Amiens section of the book, but war makes him into a more likable, mature person and you find yourself rooting for him and his colleagues to survive, and upset when many of them don't. The character's here are wonderfully drawn, very human unlike the unrealistsic heros of many a war novel who seem more like comic book heros. We see the weaknesses and fear of these men, and yet they become more heroic because of this than characters in other books.
The device of Stephen's grandchild looking back at events in the future works in how it helps to reveal the truth of what happened to Stephen and Isabelle in the long run, but it is not the most convinving or enjoyable element of this read. The book's real strength is its descriptions of war and the struggle to retain some sense of humanity in such horror. No other book has made me appreciate what these men went through and the sacrifices made for us. It is a truly moving read and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cold, alienating but finally humane novel of love and war.,
Reading "Birdsong" is not an easy job. The novel is almost self-consciously literary at first and the romance that opens it is couched in terms that manage to be both explicit and prissy simultaneously. Erotic it may well be (it might even be sexy); affectionate it certainly isn't. The frost only starts to thaw when the narrative duties are passed from orphan, illicit lover and officer Stephen Weir to father, husband and trench miner Jack Firebrace. The rhythm Faulks establishes between Firebrace, Weir and a third character, Elizabeth Beresford, is the heartbeat of a novel that so desperately needs a heart to relieve its uncompromising evocation of The Great War and the alienation it causes in characters with little to offer in reply to its horrors. "Birdsong" could easily have been a confirmation of that observation by Wilfred Owen in "Futility" that the very existence of war is a nihilist argument, that if bored snipers will shoot casually at the shattered skull of a soldier long dead on the wire(as they do in "Birdsong")then we're kidding ourselves if we think humanity is worth anything. "Birdsong" could have been a confirmation of that, but Faulks' triumph is that it isn't. Despite or because of the horrors, it champions endurance (however pointless), understanding (however partial), peace (however facile) and love (however imperfect). To reach that kind of conclusion without a trace of sentimentality or compromise against the full blast of The Great War and what it tells us about ourselves is a genuine literary achievement. "Birdsong" is a great novel and I shall certainly read everything else Faulks has written.
76 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birdsong - the best book I have ever read!,
This review is from: Birdsong
I have now read this book 4 times. Each time I read it, I find something new, and I feel a sense of sadness every time I reach the end.
This book has everything - romance and passion at the start, contrasting with the horrors of the Somme battlefield, and a link with the present day.
I learnt a great deal about how WW1 was fought - the descriptions of how both sides dug tunnels underground and lay mines under enemy lines was a revelation to me. Inspired by this book, I have since visited the Somme area and seen the remnants of some of the huge craters created by these explosions, and the thought of what it must have been like to live in a world where they were frequent occurrences is terrifying.
Faulks's writing style is beautiful yet highly readable, and the power of the story is what really carries this book along and makes one unable to put it down. Even if you are not particularly enthralled by WW1 history, read this book as a fine piece of modern literature and a darn good story...
Persevere through the first section to reach the part about the war - the brilliance of the book lies in the way it conveys what life was like for the men who suffered in WW1.
Please read this book - you will not regret it and you may, like me, find a book which changes your outlook on life.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome book.,
By A Customer
Sitting on a park bench, crying whilst I finished this book, I reflected that the genius was in what was left unwritten. Those reviewers who complain about the sketchiness of the modern story or the lack of depth at the begining, forget that any adult reader will fill in those gaps for themeselves. We are all alive in the modern era, and most of us will have fallen in love. The writer leads us, skillfully and lightly setting context, character and story with skill and understanding. This is in contrast to the incrdibly detailed and intense account of the war. Which may seem verbose, when comparesd to the rest, but is necessarely so. Who amongst us has been asked to walk at slow pace into almost certain death.
The whole then, is a modern story about a historical event which is completely belivable and real. Filling in the gaps would have added 1000 pages and made the book unreadable.
This is the most complete and gripping story I have ever read, for the first time the writer has made the first war relevant & real to me, in my life, now. However rich, well written and historicaly accurate other accounts may be, I doubt that they could achieve that.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a very powerful and enlightening story,
It is impossible not to have a strong reaction to this book. The horrors and stupidities of the great war are revealed in graphic detail, mainly from the perspective of our flawed hero and accidental officer, Wraysford. From a humanistic perspective the writer does the majority of readers a great service in letting them open a clear window into this terrible period of human history. This would be enough in itself but we are also invited into pre-war France which is also illuminating as well as England in the 1970's for an effective contrast and epilogue. It is notable that every one of the characters is shown to be significantly flawed in one way or another even before most of them are stressed beyond endurance by the challenges they are obliged to face. The characters are usually hugely selfish and insensitive but this is leavened by occasions of noble sacrifice. It seems difficult to guess how they would behave in a normal world. Interestingly, some of these weaknesses enable them to survive their ordeals better than they would otherwise have done but this is usually at the expense of others. The book in some ways is a harsh but realistic essay on survival. The revelations about military strategy are fascinating without ever painting the full picture. I would love to believe Haig was a moron and his support staff weak sycophants (two generals committed suicide......) but was it as simple as that? I guess I'll have to investigate further as well.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, disturbing and frighteningly real.,
By A Customer
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.
58 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely stunning.....,
By A Customer
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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Birdsong (Collectors Library) by Sebastian Faulks (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2013)