Faulks, Sebastian. Birdsong. Read by Peter Firth. New Hampshire: Chivers North America Audio Books, 2000.
Birdsong is broken into seven different sections covering three different periods of main character Stephen Wraysford’s life, 1910, 1916 – 1918, and 1978 – 1979 (the last being through the eyes of his granddaughter, Elizabeth). When we first meet Stephen in 1910 he is a young Englishman sent to France to observe operations at a textile mill in Amiens. It is there that he meets the beautiful and lonely Mrs. Isabelle Azaire. From the moment they meet, their attraction to one another is instantaneous and unavoidable. Even an innocent activity like pruning in the garden speaks volumes of what is to come. It isn’t long before the two give in to their carnal desires and commit adultery. If you are shy about sex scenes, there are a few you may want to skip. The second encounter in the library is pretty racy! The attraction between the lovers is so strong that Isabelle runs away with Stephen, only to be wracked by guilt causing her to leave him a short time later. We don’t know what happens to this couple after Isabelle’s leaving. This is a mystery that hangs over the next section of Stephen’s life.
When we meet up again with Stephen it is six years later and he is a soldier, sent to work in the tunnels below enemy lines. This section of the book, covering World War I, is incredibly graphic and haunting. Faulk’s portrayals of battle are as realistic as they are heartbreaking, especially in the claustrophobic tunnels. Interspersed between Stephen’s World War I experiences is the life of his granddaughter, Elizabeth. When she becomes curious about his life she sets out to learn all that she can. She ends up learning more about herself in the process. History repeats itself and comes full circle for Wraysford’s legacy.
PS ~ I like the way Peter Firth reads. His voice is really pleasant. But, unlike Kirsten Potter, who read The Locust Eaters, Firth doesn’t even attempt a French accent! He does an Australian one pretty well, though.
Reason read: Austria started World War I on June 28, 1914.
Author fact: Faulks is also a journalist.
Book trivia: Birdsong is actually the second book in a trilogy. I didn’t find that out until I entered it into LibraryThing. Bad news and good news. The bad news is that the first book is not on my list. However, the good news is that the third book, Charlotte Gray, is…so I’ll read two-thirds of the trilogy. Pearl makes no mention of these two books being connected.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I (fiction)” (p 250).
As an aside, I always think of the Grateful Dead when I hear the word “birdsong” and I am filled with nostalgia. When my husband and I were first dating I took him home to Monhegan. He brought along a video camera and made a music video of the island with Birdsong playing in the background. The video starts with me sitting on the floor in the old apartment trying to pack. So long ago!