MY 1000 WORDS: Birdsong by Sebastain Faulks

‘Birdsong’ by Sebastain Faulks begins before the war in Amiens, in 1910. Englishman Stephen Wraysford comes to Amiens in northern France, to learn more about the textile industry whilst doing so he stays with the Azaire family. The opening section of the novel sets the context as well as the plot which is relevant as it is a period of industrial and civil unrest. The whole novel is written in third person persona which ultimately gives an omnipotent view of the action and brutality of war; this is also crucial as the character Stephen is present in the novel as it allows an outsider’s view on the Azire family. The narrative throughout the novel is authentic without irritating linguistic anachronisms.

Faulks throughout the novel uses symbolic language to inform but also remind the reader of certain points which need to be emphasised. For instance, the opening paragraphs of the novel and its description of the house of Azire. It is described as “strong…formal building”. The description of the house is also similar to the qualities of the owners, namely strength but also mystery. But it also may present hidden intrigues. This immediately telegraphs that something secretive may be about to happen within the walls of this building.

The gardens of the house are described in a ripe and positive light. “Lilac and willows, cultivated to give shade and quietness to their owners.” this presents the beauty of the home therefore presenting the contextual understanding of the time. The upper class where known for their wealthy materialistic possessions, housing being one of the most important objects they owned. However, the ripeness of colour in this opening section may also be foreshadowing to a woman’s for fertility for instance the character of Isabelle. This rich language also shows the genre of Romanticism but also gothic in some areas. Another example being the description of the river which runs through Amiens “the river Somme broke up in to small canals that were the picturesque feature of Saint-Leu;…little islands of damp fertility divided by channels of the split river.” this descriptions gives the image of a woman’s womb, its ripe and rich, again emphasising this fertile image of Amiens.

Although there is this romantic fertile imagery and language, the “iron railing” surrounding the house soon enough cuts through the calmness. Although iron railings were normally associated with wealth and the upper class to me it shows the possessive nature of Monsieur Azaire; no one can have anything of his especially his wife. However, this is a fatal flaw of his, as somebody he trusts delivers the sexual interaction his wife is missing, Stephen; thus the description of the house is very much an idyllic facade of the households true inside nature. From the beginning of the novel there is a mutual sexual tension between the characters Stephen and Isabelle. The sexual attraction towards Isabelle is seen in some of her assets as a character. The creating of tension and atmosphere is a vital part of this novel it allows the reader to never hope to fully understand the war before, during and after but also the acknowledgement of the motivations behind the actions of the characters in the novel.

“Come to the red room” are the words Isabelle utters that propel her affair with Stephen into action. The colour red has the obvious connotations of danger, excitement and love, but this red room also seems to be something of a fairy tale setting. Firstly, the relationship could be something that could be viewed as unreal, as impossible to exist in society. There is also a link to childhood. The role that Isabelle plays in their relationship could be viewed being not only a lover, but also as a maternal figure. “He was a boy, he was the dearest boy, and now she would have him always”. which gives a sense of motherly undertones. The fairy tale language could be used to suggest Stephen’s inability to move on from childhood.

Throughout the novel there is a sense of modernism especially from the character Isabelle. “Isabelle didn’t care whether he married her or not, but she he said he would not see her again she felt the simply agony of bereavement…” here it is notable that it is hard for Isabelle to evolve in to a modern woman. Women in pre-war times where often heavily reliable on a man to survive. Most women married for social security but also money. This shows how marrying does not effect her personally but socially it will and she is unable to survive on her own in society because of her gender. However, her husband Azaire demonstrates a patriarchal influence as he treats his work and Isabelle with the same heavy-handedness of which foreshadows to the reader his desire to rule in both his public and private life. Azaire seems to be too traditional, old and contemporary for Isabelle.

Throughout the novel Faulks varies his accounts of different characters’ deaths, to the point where some are barely noticed. For instance, the suicide of the character Barnes is dealt with in one sentence throughout the whole novel. It is simply expressed to ready whilst the men are waiting for the Battle of the Somme to begin. Faulks uses a simple effective sentence “shot himself through the palate”. This therefore shows are death is becoming a common event in the novel which also shows the mass destruction of the war not only on nature but also human lives. By not focusing on them, neither does the reader and these events take on, therefore, less significance.

On the other hand, the character Weir’s death is treated again differently by Faulk showing an individualism of these men. Weir’s death is more poetic almost as though it is happening in slow-motion for the reader. There is some significance in this, as Weir’s last encounter with Stephen had resulted with his friend angrily pushing him face-down in the mud. This description allows the reader to understand the importance of this action, as it is mirrored in his death. After the war had happened many people did still not understand the fully extent of the damage. Isabelle for instance is blind to the destruction of the war and does not believe how many young men died. “No. The lost, the ones they did not find. The others are in the cemeteries.” this shows how death was something nobody thought about during or after the war it became a normal part of every day life for these people.

Word count: 1091