Friday, 23 March 2012

Literature Love Guest Post // Birdsong

Our literature love today, comes from the fabulous Miss Carla Renton, famous for her regular attendance at Twee Tower wine nights, styling incredible victory rolls at our vintage twee parties and delightful chats about her favourite leading men!


Birdsong is 503 pages long. A decent length’s read, but hardly War and Peace. And yet, it’s taken me nine months to finish. A horrendous average for anyone even semi-literate but, in my defence, it’s been a busy year! My snail pace is no reflection on the book, which is superb, and anyway, I like to think of Birdsong as my book-baby!

Birdsong spans eras and generations, beginning with Stephen Wraysford’s placement in a textile factory in turn-of-the-century France, lodging with his wealthy boss’ family. We rejoin Stephen some years later in the same land, a lieutenant in the British Army, fighting the battles of WWI. The story’s told from the point of view of Stephen and the other men in the trenches, but also retrospectively through Elizabeth, a single, successful career-woman in 1978, obsessed with understanding the sacrifices made by her grandfather’s generation at Flanders Fields.

For a novel about war, love is an ever-present and transcending theme. The central relationship seems to be that of fairytale, Hollywood love, an all-encompassing, requited and urgent passion. And yet, the book never allows itself to indulge in happily-ever-after territory. Its function is to acknowledge that real-life love, relationships, are rarely romantic, often difficult, painful, and hampered by the trappings of society and circumstance, expectations and personal failing. Not even movie-love is guaranteed an epic ending. It can fizzle to a quiet, bittersweet conclusion.

Mostly, though, Birdsong concerns itself with other, less-conventional takes on the theme of love. Love that develops slowly, through fondness and kindness rather than lust. Parental bonds between those with no blood-relation. The unexpected feeling that grows between men, forced through circumstance and fear to pile all their trust into one another.

For all its romantic notions, however, this is not a book that shies away from the atrocities of battle. Limbs are blown from bodies, brains obliterated, and a death due to gas attack is described in excruciating detail. Similarly, the horrific trivialities of daily trench life; shirts infested with lice in the seams, the ever-present possibility of being maimed or buried alive by tunnel collapse, having to work, sleep and live around the bodies of dead comrades.

The intense detail with which these experiences are described, coupled with the reader’s knowledge that these are not wholly imagined events, makes for a moving read. But what truly moves is that the characters are so relatable in their turmoil. They are scared to take action, and scared to not. Their tendency to worry, prevaricate, and harbour the basic hope that, in the end, everything will have been worth it, applies whether negotiating affairs of the heart, or those on Flanders Fields.


One of Lola's favourite books... you all must read! 

Much love,
L&R xx

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