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Birdsong

Written by: Sebastian Faulks
Narrated by: Peter Firth
Length: 15 hrs and 19 mins
4 out of 5 stars (4 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Searingly dispassionate in its account of life in the trenches and the commonplace nature of death, Peter Firth's narration of Sebastian Faulks's wartime epic is as shocking as it is honest.

Set before and during the great war, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. It is the story of Stephen, a young Englishman, who arrives in Amiens in 1910. His life goes through a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experiences of the war itself.

© Copyright image: IWM

©1993 Sebastian Faulks (P)2011 Random House Audio Go

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great ww1 story. One of the best.

You get inside the minds of the men. Excitement, fear, disgust, confusing, Elation, morose. Awesome story

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Ilana
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • 2012-09-20

Didn't live up to my expectations

I was very much looking forward to reading this book set in a period which fascinates me, the early 20th century and WWI, and had big expectation considering it was the recipient of many awards and mentions and seemed to be highly appreciated by many people on LibraryThing. Though there were many elements there to hold my attention, I never quite connected with the story or the characters. Stephen Wraysford finds himself on a business visit in Amiens, France in 1910, where he quickly falls in love with his host's wife, Isabelle Azaire. She is the much younger wife of a local textile baron with whom she has little in common, and in no time at all she and Stephen are exploring their passion and sexuality in very explicit erotic interludes which had me blushing and simultaneously worried I'd picked an erotica book by mistake. As the author probably deliberately planned, the reality of war and trench warfare comes in stark contrast to this love affair. This part of the novel, which makes up a good part of the story is just as explicit in describing the battles and countless deaths and maimed bodies, and while the anti-war message is made amply clear, the disillusionment Stephen goes through failed to touch me, because the spectacle of blood and gore and flying body parts made me feel like an indecent voyeur and as such cut off from complex emotions. The added layer of story, with Stephen's granddaughter attempting to decipher some of the encrypted diaries he left behind felt awkward and unnecessary. If it was meant to provide a different perspective from which to view the events, it didn't quite work for me.

To give credit where it is due, Peter Firth is a wonderful narrator I would love to listen to again.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Chrissie
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • 2012-08-20

YES, this is the audiobook you must pick!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I could not stop listening to this book. It is wonderful. I just finished. I haven't been able to do anything except listen to this book. Excellent narration by Peter Firth. I loved it. I loved all the emotion - horror of war and passionate love. And great lines and so much to think about...... Can I collect my thoughts?!

This book has everything. It is exciting and horribly moving and oh so wonderful. It is like life: full of the worst and most wonderful.

There are lines you must ponder. Why does one fight in a war? Who do we fight for? Do you fight for your land, your family, your friends....or for those comrades who have fought and died next to you? You are in the trenches and in tunnels, in the middle of bombardments. You are in a tunnel and you may be suffocated and buried alive. This book is about fear. This book is about the warfare of WW1.

But there is humor and passionate love too. Their is death and there is birth. There is hope and despair. The story takes place during WW1 in the trenches in France. It also has events set later, in the 70s. Most authors cannot switch between different time periods. In this book the two are wonderfully intertwined.

This book rips you apart, scares you to death, rolls you in passionate, sensual love, one minute has you giggling and then later pondering the essence of life and death and fear. The book is an emotional roller coaster. And you will learn what it was really like to fight in the first world war. You can swallow the horror because it is balanced by humor and love and passion and even hope and happiness.


Ooops, I think I am gushing!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Joanne
  • 2013-01-01

Magnificent

Any additional comments?

I commend this book to anyone and everyone. It is magnificently researched, the love interest is a compelling juxtaposition to the brutality of the war, and the constraint of time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lynda
  • Maleny, Australia
  • 2013-03-11

A must read for lovers of good literature

If you could sum up Birdsong in three words, what would they be?

Story, Characters and writing

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

Yes, by the sheer power of the craft of his writing and story.

Which character – as performed by Peter Firth – was your favorite?

The main character whose life was fundamentally shaped by the dramas of love and war

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, one needed to absorb the intricacies of the drama and the graphic images of a world wracked by war.

Any additional comments?

I have said it all I think for me

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
  • Jonas Blomberg Ghini
  • Trondheim, Norway
  • 2019-05-17

Disappointing writing, partly OK story

The narration is solid, though it can be a little strange that German soldiers and French villagers alike all speak working class British amongst themselves.

It all starts out with a flat main character, Stephen, who is endowed primarily with lust and jealousy. In the early stages of the story, the flow is that of one in which the man wins the woman by wearing her down. Throw in some sexual harassment, bordering on assault, as well as a pinch of the usual "Oh, pretty please, I so would like this Mr. Man to make me his object, and just take me for his own pleasure". What we're left with is a four hour long section of the book entirely devoted to a love story of the garden variety. There is a lot of parting pink flesh in there I could have gone without. Sex in porn is all about what you can see (for me as a man, anyway), sex in fiction is all about what you can make your reader imagine. I do not want to imagine parting pink flesh.

Then it changes gear, and we get to see Stephen during the Great War. During the plat love-garble in the beginning, the tone of the story was detached and impersonal, which, as it is kept for the war story, serves the book well. The utter randomness of violence is captured in passages where the start is about how Stephen (or Jack) are just being present, for so to completely blindside you with someone's brains pouring out of a bullet wound. I've certainly been privy to more powerful war stories than this one, but it works fine. Especially the scene leading up to the Somme is gorgeous, with the tension in the British camp exquisitely captured, then released in a frenzy of violence and despair.

Now, the tone of the book, so good for the parts where Stephen is a soldier, does a major disservice to the other parts of the tale. The detachment is necessary for the gruesomeness of war to not be overwhelming, but then, this same tone, makes the mundanity of Elizabeth making tea or whatever so damn boring it is hard to not skip ahead. War is inhumane, inhuman, even, and takes a certain tone to work in fiction. Daily life is as human as it gets, so telling this in the voice of war just makes it seem boring beyond reason.

In all, I think this is a story that would have benefited by completely removing the quarter about Isabelle cuckolding her husband with Stephen. The parts about Elizabeth could also be trimmed. This way there would have been more room for the part of the story the tone is good for, and it might have been better than "okay".

Obviously, it is much easier to criticise than to create, so my imagined slicing and dicing of the book is at best a poor suggestion. It is what it is, and I suppose the crux is that I simply did not like it.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sherry Shrimpton
  • 2015-04-07

have listened to this book at lest 2X

Where does Birdsong rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

up there with the best

What did you like best about this story?

Interesting, in every way..even though slow going... parts of it that is.

Love how he can draw you into characters experiences...including the terrors of war.

Which scene was your favorite?

His visit to England and spiritual healing...

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

no...i needed to listen to chapters over again as deep