"We can't all be happy, we can't all be rich, we can't all be lucky - and it would be so much less fun if we were... There must be the dark background"We can't all be happy, we can't all be rich, we can't all be lucky - and it would be so much less fun if we were... There must be the dark background to show up the bright colours. "
A spectacular book about a woman who returns to Paris in hope of reliving her youth and finding that the world has moved on...
Beautiful and heartbreaking and tragic with gorgeous prose to match, this book is very high on my 'Jo... get your act together and re-read this!' list. ...more
"It was not his death that mattered; it was the way the world had been dislocated. It was not all the tens of thousands of deaths that mattered; it w"It was not his death that mattered; it was the way the world had been dislocated. It was not all the tens of thousands of deaths that mattered; it was the way they had proved that you could be human yet act in a way that was beyond nature."
This ‘review’ might sound like a huge cliché, and for that I apologise. What I don’t apologise for is the sentiments behind it because I mean every word. I approached this book, the third time I have read it, with extreme caution. I felt like I was meeting up with friends that I hadn’t seen for a while. Situations had changed, circumstances had changed and, perhaps most importantly, my reading tastes had changed. Like many people who chose to take English Literature as an A-Level, I was told that I should read this for my War Literature Module. I’ve had bad experience with course books, experiences that started in high school and stretched right up until I graduated university. So I was sceptical to say the least. But Birdsong was different. I truly connected with this book, the story, the writing but, most of all, the characters. So when I decided to re-read it, I was nervous. Would Stephen be as damaged but heroic as I remembered him? Will Weir still make me ache with sadness? Would Jack still make me cry with laughter… and then overwhelm me with emotion? Will Jeanne still garner my utmost respect? Would Isabelle still make me feel conflicted until the very last page?
The answer to all these questions is ‘yes’. There are four parts in this book that I will always remember. And I know people who are reading this will be like… woah spoilers, but that’s the thing. If you know anything about the war, whether it’s due to an interest in history, you’ve read books, you’ve listened to your grandparent’s talking about it… you know that this actually happened. I wish there was a spoiler tag for history but, unfortunately, there isn’t. (But if you want to know nothing about this book… please skip this next part.)
The first is the part where Stephen is reading the letters in the trenches. This bit is so raw with emotion that my heart physically ached. The letter that I seem to have remembered most vividly is Tipper’s, a relatively minor character. At first you might think that him writing things such as “It’s a terrific show” and “Our guns are putting on a display like Firework Night. We are going to attack and we can’t wait to let Fritz have it” is down to youthful enthusiasm and ignorance. He’s new to the war and he’s never been over the top before, so he doesn’t know what to expect. But really these frivolous words are because he’s afraid but doesn’t want his parents, who are seeing the war through the newspapers alone, to know the truth. The second scene is Weir’s visit back home. His father’s conversation with him, dismissing his son’s cry for help because he knows, was unfortunately something that happened often. And not just on the British side, in All Quiet on the Western Front there is a particularly poignant scene where Paul visits home and realises that everything has stayed the same, but completely incomprehensible to someone who has seen what he has seen. The third part is where the soldiers are require to venture back into No Man’s Land and collect the bodies of their dead. This scene, which is difficult to stomach seeing as Faulk’s can perfectly describe the state of a body who has been left to the elements for two weeks, was unbearably haunting. My heart bled, and continues to bleed, for Brennan. And the fourth was the one of the last scenes with Stephen in the mines. With the aid of Faulks’ writing, I could feel the hammering of Stephen’s heart, his desperation, his hope fading, his desire to live and the grime beneath my finger nails. What I love the most about this book and perhaps why I’ve read it so many times and will continue to read it again and again is how Mr Faulks portrays the human spirit when humanity has been completely deserted. Birdsong is a shocking book and there are many passages that made me feel sick to my stomach, angry and so sad that I had to actually stop reading and do something else for a while. It is difficult to read this book and not get immersed in it. Yes, you might get bored with the love story (and don’t forget that shocking and explicit part where people have sex! Shock, horror) and yes you might get a bit bored with Elizabeth’s story line (I actually love that bit… I find it extremely honest and realistic), but there is no denying that the parts in the trenches with Stephen, Weir, Firebrace and the rest of the men are nothing short of astounding.
”He wanted it louder and louder; he wanted them to drown out the war with their laughter. If they could shout loud enough, they might bring the world back to its senses; they might laugh loud enough to raise the dead.”
This review is part of my Poppies & Prose feature. You can read more about it here....more