Lance Greenfield's Reviews > Birdsong

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
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Oct 07, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, my-top-books
Read in August, 2008

It's as if the author is writing from personal experience.

The way that the characters and the atmosphere are built by Sebastian Faulks is just amazing! The reader is taken in to that atmosphere, and shares the feelings of the main character, Stephen. You cannot fail to be totally captivated.

Anyone who has served for any significant period in the Armed Forces will instantly relate to the use of black humour to cover the awful reality and horror. Faulks also manages to reflect on how every aspect of life continues, perhaps in the background, as the war goes on. There is a strong and emotive love story. There is a very powerful understanding of the futility of war and its effects on everyone involved, regardless of national allegiance. One of the most poignant parts of the book, for me, is the description of the feelings of the sappers as they tunnel deep below the battlefield, knowing that their counterparts are experiencing the same hopes and fears, only feet away through the awful mud and darkness. Death is never more than a split second away.

Note: It makes it even more personal to me as I was in the Royal Engineers (Sappers) during my military career. I'm happy to report, though, that I never had to get involved in the activity of sapping, or tunnelling.

Having had the privilege of sitting with Somme veterans, listening to their vivid memories of the trenches and the contacts, and those friends who lost their lives, I can say, with great confidence, that the superb writing of Birdsong takes us as close to being there as is possible.

A scene which, some may say, in the greater scheme of the whole book pales into insignificance but is still very well worth mentioning, is the extremely erotic, yet tastefully presented, first sexual encounter between Stephen and Isabelle, which occurs early on in the story. There are other encounters throughout the book, but I found this to be one of the most sexually arousing pieces of writing that I have ever read. It omits just the right amount of detail to allow the reader's imagination to run riot. Amazing!

Every emotion is touched during the reading of this book.

The title is evocative. I found several reasons to entitle the book this way, not least Stephen's declaration regarding his feelings about birds and the reasons behind those feelings. When you read the book, keep the title in your mind. Seeking the meaning adds an extra dimension to your reading.

It is a shame that it is not possible to award six stars to any book that I review, for Birdsong would surely deserve such an award. This one definitely makes it into my lifetime favourite five.

I would have no hesitation in recommending Birdsong to absolutely anyone, but most especially to any politician who is thinking about sending young people to their deaths in war.

Footnote: I was surprised that The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann featured in Sebastian Faulks's top one hundred books. It sits right at the opposite end of the gripping to boring spectrum of reading to this magnificent work: Birdsong is gripping.
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03/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Lance, Another great review. When I can give fair attention to them, I plan to get to your writings on the writing section of your profile too. Hopefully soon if I read one or two at a time. I have a busy week and then a busy few weeks, but if/when I'm in a good frame of mind, I'll gladly read your writings.


message 2: by Heidi (new)

Heidi i was encouraged to read this book by your review, until I read the last line. I read Magic Mountain in college (it was actually taught to us by a fantastic philosophy professor) and it remains one of my favorite books to this day.


Lance Greenfield Heidi - perhaps if I had studied The Magic Mountain under supervision at college, I might have had a different view. I know that the majority think the opposite of me, and believe it to be a brilliant work. It is all a matter of opinion, and I respect the fact that more people love it than hate it.

Please don't let my comment put you off reading Birdsong. As I said, Sebastian Faulks agrees with your view of The Magic Mountain. He puts it in his top 100.


message 4: by Heidi (new)

Heidi Thanks, Lance. I appreciate your comment and will proceed with Birdsong!


Lance Greenfield Good Heidi! I am pleased! I am sure that you will enjoy Birdsong.

I shall look forward to your review.


message 6: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. I am just now reading this book. You've written a great review that sums up this wonderful, brilliantly written book.


Jane I thought this was an amazing book too. My Grandad fought in the Somme and was injured as an 18 year old boy. He lay in a shell hole until he was rescued. He would never talk about his experiences there and this book really brought home to me the full horror of trench warfare.


message 8: by C. (new) - rated it 5 stars

C. Stephen is a character who is hard to forget because there must have been so many people like him who suffered because of all the horrible things they did and saw. I just got through the visit with Brenner in the home and it was so sad thinking about how many people there must have been like him.


message 9: by Dawn (& Ron) (new)

Dawn (& Ron) Just stumbled on your review today. I loved this book and agree with Cindy above, Stephen has a way of never leaving you. I just finished Pat Barker's Regeneration set in WWI, which has some of these same haunting scenes of the realities of war, especially trench warfare.


message 10: by Dawn (& Ron) (new)

Dawn (& Ron) Lance, did you make some changes to this review? I'm trying to figure out what is different besides your avatar photo. Either way wonderful review. Did you see the BBC (Masterpiece Classic over here) two part film on Birdsong?


Lance Greenfield I did see the BBC two-parter, which I thought was excellent. It was almost faithful to the book, but there were some noticeable changes. That is necessary in a TV or film adaption, and absolutely necessary in my view.

Yes. I made some slight changes to the review after I re-read it and added in the paragraphs about the first sexual encounter and the possible meaning(s) of the title. The latter is a very interesting point, which I'd just love to discuss with the author.


message 12: by Dawn (& Ron) (last edited Jun 11, 2012 05:16PM) (new)

Dawn (& Ron) I thought the scene (view spoiler) which was so powerful in the novel, was done very effectively in the tv adaption. I thought it was quite faithful to the book too and glad they focused it the way they did.

I thought that passage was new since I didn't recall it being there before. Are you going to try and contact Faulks?


Chrissie I am convinced. :0) Great review!


Lance Greenfield Thanks Chrissie. I am happy to have helped.

This is what reviews on Goodreads are all about, so I am really pleased that I ticked all of the boxes for you!


Lance Greenfield Mine too, Elizabeth.

Don't you agree with me that it is as if the author had lived through it?


message 16: by Karla (new)

Karla Wonderful touching review Lance!


Julie I watched BBC production of TV series "Birdsong" first, that very second thought was, I must read this book. Still in the early stage of the book, I already felt what you said: Every emotion is touched during the reading of this book. Thanks for sharing Lance, I will be back to echo more...


message 18: by Ellen (last edited Jun 22, 2015 02:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ellen read this book last year and found it to be very memorable for the reasons you stated. I recall having tears in my eyes at the moment of the rescue; now how often do you care so much that you want to cry? I did find the construction of the story unusual, with the obsessive detail on the initial romance which I assumed would point to a very different future for the couple...so hats off to the author for defying expectations.


message 19: by Jane (new)

Jane I've been meaning to read this for a while, your review has just inspired me to request it from the library. Really looking forward to reading it.


Lance Greenfield GingerDoll wrote: "I've been meaning to read this for a while, your review has just inspired me to request it from the library. Really looking forward to reading it."

Great! I am sure that you will enjoy it very much.

If you're searching for another good read, I will be very cheeky, and suggest that you take a look at my debut novel, "Eleven Miles." I am very pleased with the reviews so far.


message 21: by Jane (new)

Jane I will check it out, thanks :)


Lance Greenfield GingerDoll wrote: "I will check it out, thanks :)"

I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to read it. I don't know if libraries can order it. I know that it is available online only through many channels - both Kindle and Paperback. From yesterday, it is available to order in Waterstones stores, but it is not available through their web site yet. They say that will be "soon."

I don't know where you live, but Waterstones are going to allow me to do some book-signing sessions in the near future. Possibilities include Staines, Andover, Bracknell, Woking, Camberley.... And I can ask other stores in the area.

Go on. Tell me you live in Aberdeen!

Eleven Miles by Lance Greenfield Eleven Miles


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