Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Eight - Birdsong - Part Four

Since I didn’t set out to create a traditional book review blog, I’ve been writing about what I read as I read it. I may want to rethink that, as I fear I did Sebastian Faulks a great disservice in criticizing his narrator in the beginning of this book. Part One was set in 1910, Part Two in 1916, and in Part Three we skip to 1978. I believe I see where we are going. I’m getting great detail about a new character, Elizabeth, her life, her surroundings, her choices and her motivations. I suspect there is a reason Mr. Faulks didn’t provide that at the beginning for those two particular characters. I should have remembered how incredibly difficult it is for a writer to withhold information at the beginning of a novel! The best books always leave the reader with wonderful discoveries to make along the way, and we cannot make those discoveries if the beginning contains huge signposts.

I suspect there is a part of me that sees each novel as its own entity; I seem to forget the lessons past books have taught me. But I kind of like it that way. Each book is a new experience and I can live in a different world while I am in its pages. The experiences I have on a French battlefield in 1916 have little to do with the experiences of a 12 year old in an Irish manor house, or so it seems at the time. Reading is an activity set in the present, wherever the present happens to be.

As proof that Sebastian Faulks does indeed understand a woman’s perspective, I offer the following from page 235 of my Vintage International edition--

Lindsay had also been through a phase of inviting unattached men when Elizabeth went to visit. For two or three years the previously settled threesome would be augmented by a variety of single men, desperate, divorced, drunk, but more often merely content to be as they were.
Can I get an Amen from anyone who has endured serial set-ups from self-proclaimed well meaning friends who "only want to see you happy” as if there could be only one route to happiness and that is marriage and procreation? As Elizabeth says, “I think I need to know why.”

OK, so maybe I went a little Bridget Jones in that last paragraph. The point is that I’m really enjoying the character of Elizabeth. On the 60th anniversary of the 1918 armistice--

There were interviews with veterans and comments from various historians. Elizabeth read it with a feeling of despair: the topic seemed too large, too fraught, and too remote for her to take on at that moment. Yet something in it troubled her.
I get that, Elizabeth, I really do.

One of the book's locations: 

La Grand Place
Circa 1916
From New Cumnock Parish Church in East Ayrshire

The Grand Place
From the National Library of Scotland’s digital library
“The French town of Bethune was considered an important strategic location for its rail and canal links. It was nearly captured by German forces after heavy bombardment in April 1918.”


  1. I used to hate being set up all the time, so I hear your shout-out loud and clear!!! And whoo hoo for woman should ever have to settle for a drunk, desperate guy. :)

  2. The thing that struck me most was the part about those who are "merely content to be as they were." Elizabeth wasn't criticizing them for that. She understood the feeling and didn't judge them. I like that about her.

  3. This sounds like a fascinating set of books. Love the era. I don't think doing your book blog as you go is a problem? You're able to record your true reaction to the novel. You might learn from it, but in that moment, it's an honest expression of your reaction. What's wrong with that? Not a thing. :-)

  4. Thanks, Jillian. I am leaning that way.

  5. Great read, Peggy. One of my favourite books, and I was just about to write a post on my blog about it myself. Will have a scout around for your writing on the other parts- would be interested in seeing your opinion on other settings/ characters.