Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong, 1993.

The problem with delaying writing an entry for this reading journal after finishing the book is that I'm forgetful. That truth, after all, is part of the reason why I write the journal in the first place. It has been a couple of weeks now since I finished Birdsong, and it's starting to slip out of my memory. I can't recall why I picked up the book.

It was a beautiful book. It moves slowly at the beginning: Stephen Wraysford's visits a French factory manager, and falls in love with and begins an affair with the wife of the manager. They run off together, and though she leaves him, he remains in France rather than returning to England. The first World War starts, and he joins the BEF.

Much of the story is the abject terror of life in and under the trenches (Stephen befriends and then works with those who are mining underneath no-man's land, and underneath enemy trenches). The imagery is gorgeous, and Faulks' pacing is perfect.

Perhaps the most interesting part for me was the second half of the book's alternating in sequence between the bits about Stephen--and his developing relationship with Jeanne--and the bits about his grand-daughter, Elizabeth, making sense of her life and her own desire to know more about her grand-father. Birdsong is a book about finding and constructing meaning in stories, in shades of half-memories, and in historical possibilities. It was an entrancing book.

Ordinarily I try to quote a representative passage, but I'm still stuck on a bit near to the end, when Stephen says "'s not the details of a live I've lost. It's the reality itself" (344). There's a stunning sense of loss of self depicted by Faulks in this story about what it means to be in the midst of war, and that idea is causing me to reflect upon my own thoughts about war, peace, and conflict.