Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: French Trilogy, #2
Publisher: Vintage International
I’ve always contended that the best books are the ones that stick with you. There are some books that, despite your best efforts and those of the people you talk to, somehow wind their way into every one of your conversations. There are others that tumble into your life by chance and give you something to strive toward. There are even more that leave you with the slightly elated, slightly nostalgic feeling of having read something truly special.
And then there are some books, like Birdsong, that manage to wind themselves so deeply through your mind as you read them that it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the characters are always lingering in your blind spot, their world mingling just enough with yours to keep the events of their stories at the forefront of your memory for weeks, months, years.
I’m tempted to call Birdsong a masterpiece, but I think that would be somewhat thoughtless. To classify Birdsong as a masterpiece would imply that there are others of its kind, that somewhere along the line there’re more novels comparable to this one. And quite honestly, what makes Birdsong so powerful is Faulks’s ability to merge elements of love, war, beauty, trauma, life and death so seamlessly that, in a sense, it creates a class of its own.
There’s little to criticise about this novel. Its characters are almost tragically lifelike – their realness only makes their relationships and experiences all the more heart wrenching. Faulks’s approach to their stories was so skilful, and his weaving together of their lives so intricate, that even the most insignificant plot twists left me shaking. With the current surplus of war films, documentaries and cookie-cutter books, it’s a challenge to craft a story about the Great War that is simultaneously unique, accurate and harrowing, yet Faulks seemed to have no trouble doing so.
Birdsong is going to be one of those books I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life – not only something I’ll drop into conversations, or an example I’ll strive towards in my own writing, or even just something I’ll reread once every few years for the rush it gives me when I turn the last page. It’s made itself a permanent home in my mind.