19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
A cold, alienating but finally humane novel of love and war., 31 Aug. 2001
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.