Book Reviews: ‘Birdsong’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

12 Jun

The university year is over, with my last exam being only one week ago, yet I am already steaming through my third book. It’s the sudden release into freedom that makes the Jenga-style stack of all those books I have collected at charity shops and second hand book stores over the year look like an oasis to a man who’s been trawling through a desert since September. Although I study English Literature, so there is never a shortage of things to read, it makes the most refreshing change to be able to leisurely dance my fingers along the spines of the books lined up on my bookshelf and choose one because it’s the one my heart/gut/head is yearning for on that particular day.

First on my hit list was Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. Having watched the TV adaptation starring Eddie Redmayne and having heard such great things about the book (“a brilliant, harrowing tale of love and war” Observer),  I was eager to get booted up and trenched out. When describing how this book made me feel once I’d turned the final yellow page (I found my copy in a second hand shop for 50p – bargain!), I don’t think the word ‘enjoy’ fits the bill. It was heartbreaking at points, and so vivid. Oh so vivid that after a couple of times reading it before bed I decided it would have to be a morning book because the dreams it conjured for me were frightful. This was what made it a great book in my opinion. The downfall came in the secondary plot, when suddenly, in the midst of the action, Faulks would take us to 1970s England where the protagonist’s granddaughter is trying to find out what happened to her grandfather during the war. For me, this was clunky, and a real shame. Why couldn’t we just find out what happened to Stephen through his original story? The flicking forward in time released the incredible tension that he had so masterfully built up. Perhaps I am alone in this opinion, and if you disagree please let me know why, but the writers for the TV adaptation felt that the modern interjections were unnecessary too and I would have to say I’m on their side in this argument. BUT, don’t let that put you off giving this book a read! It’s deeply moving, and if you’re interested in that part of history it gives new perspectives to the lives of the soldiers that suffered in the trenches. Overall, it was a magnificent read, and has inspired me to study First World War Literature for my dissertation next year.

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Next came Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Shamefully, this is a book I had absolutely no clue about. What was inked into those pages was completely unknown to me, and as I read I found I simply couldn’t put it down until I did know. My disconnection with this dystopian future was contradicted by the disturbing familiarity of certain things presented, and the proximity of the date in which it was set. The horror of how quickly things could deteriorate in society creates a realistic form of science fiction, cleverly intertwined with strong themes of sex, feminism and religion. Atwood puts forward ideas on traditionalism, and scorns those that believe women should go back and remain in the home through her extreme example. However, as mentioned before, it is the familiarity of the images that haunted me the most. Just watch the news for the headlines and you’ll soon know what I’m referring to. With all these heavy building blocks put aside however, the delicate writing style decorates these themes with cynical witticisms and intense imagery. The wordplay and crafting of the language shows Atwood to be an exceptional writer, and I intend to read more of her works in the future.

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I am currently half way through Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, so stay tuned for the review of that coming soon!

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2 Responses to “Book Reviews: ‘Birdsong’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’”

  1. readingmater July 24, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Three books I have loved! (I include A Thousand Splendid Suns, which you have probably finished by now.)I do agree that Birdsong is not a book to “enjoy” but is heart breaking. For what it’s worth, from what you write about these books, you might enjoy Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book, unless some of her mannerisms put you off -as an Eng. Lit graduate. It’s one of my favourites. Or her WWII books.

    • francesclarke07 July 25, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

      Thank you for your comments! I will certainly look into Willis, thank you for the recommendation 🙂

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