Publisher and Publication Date: Vintage. Published March 21st 2012. First published September 27, 1993.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Source: Library ebook copy.
Audience: Romance readers who can also digest a war story, or readers of military stories who can digest a love story. Historical fiction readers of World War I.
Birdsong is book two in the French Trilogy by Sebastian Faulks. The first book is The Girl at the Lion d’Or. The third book is Charlotte Gray. I’ve read Charlotte Gray. This last book I rated good or 3 stars. From what I remember, Charlotte Gray was a bland character.
The year is 1910. Stephen Wraysford is a young Englishman who stays with the Azaire family in France. He is observing and learning about Mr. Azaire’s factory business. Mrs. Isabelle Azaire is the second wife and step-mother to the two children. She is a proper, respected, and lovely woman. The constraints of her economic class and the era in which she lives creates an insecurity about being perfect. However, perfect is a façade, an illusion. From the first moment, there is an instant attraction between Stephen and Isabelle. There are several scenes of lingering eye contact and touching, which builds to the moment they seek a safe place to act on their attraction. Their relationship is powerful and they are swept up in the energy it brings. It peaks when reality sets. The story then shifts to the early years of World War I. Stephen is in the British army. He is an officer in command of other soldiers. A secondary story is the late 1970s, England. A middle age woman is in search of information about her grandfather. The book is primarily about Stephen Wraysford. The lens is on him.
I have so many thoughts about this story.
•I’d heard about this book years ago when the movie was on PBS. I watched pieces of this movie at that time. I’m hoping to watch it in full.
•Recently, I read an account (from someone else) this book gave a solid look at World War I. I agree. It is descriptive about so many aspects of the war I’d not considered. For example, the lice and flea problem. Lice and fleas permeated the soldier during World War I. Even when they were on leave and cleaned up, the eggs were in the clothing. They’d hatch eventually and the soldier began itching. The itching was done without realizing, because they’d become accustomed to the problem. Another aspect is the shaking or tremor in the hands of soldiers. Their hands shook because of PTSD. Other aspects of the war in this book: the sound that a shell makes before it hits the target; what happened to a human body depending on where the shell hit; the miners who tunneled; an explanation of what gangrene does to a human body; what a poisonous gas attack does to a human body; medical treatments from doctors and nurses; the feeling of detachment for a soldier; retrieving dead bodies for burial; and the infestation of rats.
•Birdsong is a book about relationships. Relationships between husbands and wives, parent and children, lovers, friends, and soldiers who are in war. As I’ve become older, I have learned there are different types of love and different levels of love. And, people who romantically love one another, and it is a deep love, don’t always end up in a permanent relationship. Sometimes things don’t work out for people who love one another. This book explores a lingering love. A love that doesn’t go away, but only finds a safe place to settle in a person’s heart.
•Faulks is a descriptive writer. I found myself lingering and rereading certain parts, especially with people. I felt that if I reread those portions about the person I might understand them better. I might see them in my mind clearer.
•The themes in the story pull at the heart. For example, war and the impact it makes on generations.
•Birdsong is a haunting story. It’s a memorable story.
•Birdsong is a mature story. I’m not saying that if you are 18 you are not old enough to read the story. Birdsong requires a maturity about life that is made profound by older eyes.
•I understand the reason for including the modern story. However, I didn’t care for it. It felt pasted. It felt insignificant in comparison to Stephen’s story.