My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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.