Leigh's Reviews > Birdsong

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
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's review
Jun 17, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: genre-novels, subject-war, subject-war-wwi, 1975-1999, saw-film, location-in-sf
Read in June, 2007 — I own a copy

I resisted loving this book for as long as I could, for a variety of reasons--foremost among them my sense of its being a little too neat, a little too dramatically contrived--but in the end I gave in. I loved this book, for all its flaws and for all my lack of real interest in its protagonist.

When I was reading the first section (approximately one hundred pages, prewar), I wrote of it: "Faulks cites a number of nineteenth-century French authors as influences, and Flaubert in particular is evident in this book--and not just because of its early setting (France) and subject (adultery). It's very sensual, very attuned to physicality, and very involved with the way that convention wars with romanticism. The prose itself speaks to that contrast: often formalized, restrained, but just barely covering the narrative surge beneath."

But it was, unexpectedly, in the descriptions of men at war that Faulks came into his own. The staging of the night before the Somme in particular was brutally effective, and the relationships between the soldiers were compelling. Faulks did his research, too; perhaps sometimes a little too obviously, since there were moments when I felt as though I was reading The Great War and Modern Memory , but overall it was a fair trade-off for capturing the texture of the era.

Although I thought the last few pages worked, in general I remain unimpressed by the contemporary sections tacked on toward the end. As a rule they weren't as engaging as the trench scenes, and the technique of framing the story with a modern-day search for a family's past is already overused in historical novels.

But for all that, I loved this book. Enough that, like the Sunday Express reviewer, "as I finished it I turned to the front to start again." If you know how neurotic I am about constantly pushing ahead to new books, you'll understand what an endorsement that is.
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