Birdsong (Magill Book Reviews)
Young Stephen Wraysford goes to France in 1910 to study manufacturing methods only to run away with Isabelle Azaire, the neglected wife of his host. Discovering herself pregnant and confused about her feelings for Stephen, Isabelle leaves him as well. The increasingly alienated Stephen stays in France and is almost pleased when the war gives him an opportunity to try to focus his confused emotions. The war, however, proves more horrendous than anyone could have imagined, leaving Stephen angrier than before. Hoping to die at times, he miraculously escapes death while all his friends are falling, once even when his body is discarded as a corpse.
Stephen eventually finds some solace with Jeanne Fortmentier, Isabelle’s older sister, only for more emotional confusion to develop. Sixty years later, Elizabeth Benson, his granddaughter, finds herself similarly at a loss until she becomes pregnant by her married lover. Tracking down the truth about Stephen, Isabelle, Jeanne, and the war—with the help of her grandfather’s coded diaries—Elizabeth attempts to find some order within the chaos that is the twentieth century.
Faulks’s depiction of disorder is almost lyrical because of his poetic writing style. His treatment of the overlapping themes of love, sex, alienation, nature, violence, and death recalls the best war fiction, particularly Ernest Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS (1929). Like Hemingway, Faulks cannot resist occasional...
(The entire section is 323 words.)
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Birdsong (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The horrors of World War I and the resulting disillusionment meant more to the British than to any other nationality, yet there are few major British novels dealing with the Great War. The most lasting fiction about this experience has been created by Americans—Three Soldiers (1921) by John Dos Passos, The Enormous Room (1922) by e. e. cummings, Through the Wheat (1923) by Thomas Boyd, A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway, Paths of Glory (1935) by Humphrey Cobb—and a German—All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) by Erich Maria Remarque—while the British are notable for the war poetry of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, and Robert Graves and such memoirs as Graves’s Good-bye to All That (1929). Sebastian Faulks remedies this gap with a graphic vision of World War I. Birdsong, however, is more than a war novel as Faulks blends such topics as sex, love, alienation, nature, and death into the fabric of his narrative.
Stephen Wraysford is just twenty when he visits Amiens in 1910 to study French textile manufacturing methods for his English employer. Staying with Azaire, owner of the local textile factory, Stephen is slowly drawn to Isabelle, his host’s haunting young wife. Their attraction soon develops into an affair, and they run away after confronting Azaire, who has neglected and abused his wife. Isabelle is uncertain whether she loves Stephen or is...
(The entire section is 1836 words.)