"Ambitious, outrageous, poignant, sleep-disturbing, Birdsong is not a prefect novel--just a great one."--Simon Schama, "New Yorker"
"An amazing book--among the most stirringly erotic I have read for years...I have read it and re-read it and can think of no other novel for many, many years that has so moved me or stimulated in me so much reflection on the human spirit."--Quentin Crewe, "Daily Mail"
"This book is so powerful that as I finished it I turned to the front to start again."--Andrew James, "Sunday Express"
"One of the finest novels of the last 40 years."--Brian Masters, "Mail on Sunday"
"This is literature at its very best: a book with the power to reveal the unimagined, so that one's life is set in a changed context. I urge you to read it."--Nigel Watts, "Time Out"
Ok. Right. Where to start with this one? Well I read it in a little over a week, which is a personal record for me. I am not a fast reader by any means, but there was a time limit on this one. I was not aware that the Beeb had made it into a show - but when I saw the full trailer - and once I had closed my mouth - it suddenly became a priority.
I will start by saying that I do struggle to get into Sebastian Faulks novels. I struggled with Charlotte Gray, but once I was in I could not put it down. And it was the same with this one. The novel is set in 3 time zones: 1910, 1916-1918 and various years during the 70's.
I liked the earlier part, although I found it a hard going to begin with. I loved reading descriptions of places that are now synonymous with The Great War; Theipval, Arras, Albert and Amiens, to name a few. Such small places that developed such a reputation. The author paints these places in such a glorious shimmery sunlight of love, lust and youth that it made me sad just to think of it and the desolation that was hurtling towards them.
Oddly enough, I was not at all moved by the love story. Not one jot. I was relieved when that part was over.
It is the other times that cemented this novel for me as one of my all time bests. The authors description and character structure had me hooked. Although you follow the protagonist, Stephen Wraysford, it is the other men who gripped me more. I began to care so much about them and found myself wanting to know what the outcome of certain events would be, that it made my heart race. At times is made me sad. At others it made me laugh. And once it made me openly sob.
The scenes that are painted by Faulks were helped along by my personal recollections of visiting such places as Albert and Arras (which oddly enough is described in the book much as it is today - minus the memorial that now bears the name of my Gramps).
I have been to trenches. I have seen the ground at Beaumont-Hamel. I have been to Auchonvillers and it's teashop. So I really felt like I was there.
That said, the author's attention to detail does enable someone who knows little about the subject to become part of it all, so a trip to the Belgium/France border is not necessary. But I can heartily recommend it. If only for awesome cake at the aforementioned teashop.
Couple that with the journey of Elizabeth in the strike-riddled late 1970's, and I was a goner. Her part of the story resonated with me so much, I began to wonder if the author had looked inside my head.
I cannot wait to see if the BBC do this justice on the small screen, and I wonder if it shall ever make it to the pop-corn munching aisles big one. For me, I am happy that my interpretations of this novel are my own for it's first reading. Because I think I will read it it again. Perhaps not in it's entirety, but certainly in part.
An awesome 9/10