Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Sebastian Faulks - Birdsong

A novel of overwhelming emotional power, Birdsong is a story of love, death, sex and survival. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in Amiens in northern France in 1910 to stay with the Azaire family, and falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters, and Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front. His love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, he experiences the unprecedented horrors of that conflict - from which neither he nor any reader of this book can emerge unchanged.

Comment: This is one of the books which has been the longest in the shelf. I remember only I got it at a book fair, with a good discount but then it has languished....I'm trying to mix up books I had the longest with others, so that some can be read at last, otherwise it probably would never have its chance.

In this novel, we follow Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman who works in a company which produces textiles and while staying in France with the Azaire family, he falls in love with Isabelle, the wife of the man who welcomed him into his house and his factory. Despite the fact they like each other and after an attempt of being a couple, Isabelle runs away and years later we see Stephen again as he does his best at war. However, the war is not as quick nor as simple as initially predictable and what Stephen sees and lives there will mark him forever...

It had been so long since I got interested in this book that, to be frank, I no longer really remembered why anymore and I didn't check reviews, so that I would not read something I shouldn't. This means I was not aware there would be so many pages on war descriptions and situations, nor that they would be rather graphic most of the time. It's an option and a style but I will admit I felt it was too much for my usual preferences.

However, the biggest reason why this wasn't as easy to endure is simple: war means so many negative emotions and situations and the author pulled no punches. The story is depressing, sad, even worse if one thinks it is based on real events and what is being described certainly can't be worse than what truly happened to real people, who suffered and who left families in mourning and in anger this even had to be a reality. While part of me recognizes this need to never let such a thing be forgotten, even by the means of a fictional story, the overall realistic events were portrayed too depressingly. I understand it, but it didn't allow for such a pleasant read.

Stephen is the type of man who keeps going, even when things seem hopeless. I found that I wasn't too invested in him at first, after all he decided to act on his feelings towards a married woman, knowing exactly what that would mean for both of them, and while some can see this as an impossible love affair which succumbed to the thrill of true love, I see it differently and wasn't too fond of his attitude and reasoning and self explanations for them.

At war, Stephen is one of those who maintains his calm, sees the big picture and tries his best to take things into a potential positive scenario for his fellow countrymen. However, so many things are unpredictable and the friendships and connections, after we got to be invested in them, no matter how superficial they might have seemed, always have a bad end and, honestly, at some point it felt everyone died except Stephen. Again, I can imagine how realistic this might have been, after all it seems around 9 million were dead in combat, but it was hard to appreciate the writing when all that happened was death.

While the war and descriptions of life at the trenches has the big focus, the author also included a section in the late 1970s, where Stephen's granddaughter is investigating what happened to Stephen and she stumbles on information about some of the men who fought alongside Stephen. This was interesting but I must say I think it would have been enough to give the information given in this section (there are a few, let's say chapters, on this here and there) as an epilogue, considering what we really learn.

Globally, this was not as amazing as I hoped for. I can see the intent and the reason why it can feel as touching for some readers, how necessary it can feel considering there was a second wold war, so no lessons learned from the horrific details of the first, but as whole written work, I can't say I was truly invested in the characters, nor did I feel i wanted to root for them. I did wish less of the men we got to know a little about while the war scenes were happening, had died. Perhaps, that way, the ones who did die could have had a more everlasting resonance to me and to the plot's climax.
Grade: 5/10

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