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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
  • Declan
  • Tervuren, Belgium
  • 08-05-11

Modern classic, beautifully narrated

Truely enjoyed this book, it's pretty epic, covering the great war and more. The character development is excellent and the words of Sebastian Faulks paint an wonderful picture of pre war France and the struggles of the soldiers in the war itself, the description of the Battle of Somme is especially heart-rendering.

What made this audiobook for me was the narration by the great Peter Firth (more known for his lead role in BBC drama "Spooks"). For the first 15 minutes I thought it was a little monotone and lacking in emotion however as the story developed I discovered his tone was in fact perfect for the drama to come.

The book is beautiful phrased and a true modern classic and the narration does in justice. A rewarding book well worth the investment and effort.

A final point, the book obviously revolves around World War One, however the book is more than a "war novel", it's a broad tale of the struggles of identity and includes some very well written female characters.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Peter
  • Alcabideche, Portugal
  • 20-04-11

An exceptionally well told story........

Being of that generation to whom the First World War still arouses deep passions (my grandfather undured & survived the Somme & Ypres) I was a initially anxious that this book was not going to portray an accurate picture of that dreadful period in history.
This impression arose from the first part of the story which detailed in perhaps too graphic a manner, the principal character's exploits in France in 1911.
However, my anxieties were allayed - although my emotions were truly stirred - by the subsequent descriptions of life in (and under) the trenches as the Great War developed.
Faulks' story line is really quite brilliant and Peter Firth's rendition of it is of the highest order.
The end of the story, when it came, was not unlike the end of the War itself....not so much a time to celebrate a job well done but to reflect on what it was really all about.
I drew my conclusions and I recommend that you listen to it & draw your own.

27 of 28 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Johanna
  • Adelaide, Australia
  • 24-12-12

An epic novel. Highly recommended

What a brilliant and moving book - of love and endurance set during the WW1. The horror of war is depicted so amazingly well. The description of the trench warfare was very emotional. Faulks' wonderful narrative is beautifully written and gripping with Stephen, a complex and hard to pin down character and what happened to him is both ordinary and remarkable which seems like most of the men to have fought for their country. The other thread of Elizabeth, is one of hope and the importance of knowing where you came from an history.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful!!

This is probably one of the best books I have ever read! An absolute classic!!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • mike
  • Birmingham, United Kingdom
  • 15-08-11

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

A wonderful evocative tale. It takes the reader into the nineteen hundreds in France, and the reader can live the horrors of trench warfare during the first world war. Faulks has that magic knack of weaving an entire world for the reader to inhabit. I had previously read this book and enjoyed it, but it lends itself really well to the audio book format, and Peter Firth is well up to the job of narrating this involving and moving story.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Beautiful, sad and gripping.

This is a book I have owned for some years; on retiring I was able to give it the attention it deserves - worth the wait.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fantastic listen!

Had wanted to read this for ages but couldn't find the time so I thought the audible version would be a good compromise. It wasn't a compromise, so beautifully written and spoken that the whole story was brought to life as I listened. 12 hours flew by, I didn't want it to end

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

A love story through the bloody battles of WW1

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

Very high

What did you like best about this story?

This is not my usual book but its up there in the top 50 reads and I understand why. The story of a man before, during and after the first world war and a love story woven through.

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

Stephen Wraysford, what a sad but strong man.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes, as the author is so good at describing a scene down to minute detail, as well as taking you emotionally into the conflict of battle in the trenches and a gentle love story

Any additional comments?

A fabulous book.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Extraordinary levels of description

Story ultimately not so valuable as the insight into suffering, endurance, resignation and hope. Descriptive writing so gripping that the plot was secondary.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Overwhelmingly moving!

I first read this book fifteen years ago and I can clearly remember sitting on a bus journey with tears trickling down my face and missing my stop. Listening to the book, as opposed to reading it, brought out a whole new dimension and there was a whole host of things I didn't remember or notice last time round.

It was no less moving or tragic and perhaps with our current commemoration of the First World War and my own maturity, it has leant an added dimension to this amazing book.

I listened to this book with my husband while on a two week driving tour of the UK. It probably would have been better if we had been touring Northern France as we have in the past, but I just couldn't wait.

The big negative bit for me was the first part of the book and it's concentration on the sexual relationship of the two main characters. It's graphic description of the repeated sex acts didn't do much for me fifteen years ago and didn't do much for me now. But perhaps I'm just a prude.

But if you're looking for a book which demonstrates the emotional stress of the war, this is the book for you and whatever your view of the 1st WW this book will challenge you to look closely at the moral, emotional and political aspects of it and come out the other side with greater clarity.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Chrissie
  • 20-08-12

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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    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ilana
  • 20-09-12

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.

3 of 3 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
  • 01-01-13

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.

1 of 1 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
  • Sherry Shrimpton
  • 07-04-15

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Lynda
  • 11-03-13

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