Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

After hearing much appraise for this book, I decided to pick it up for myself, and to my surprise, I'm pleased I did. The most important thing to note before reading this book, is that it is not just another war epic, but a powerfully evocative tale that is compact with emotion and vivid descriptions of life and death, but not as we know it.

The first chapter opens in 1910, when twenty year old, Stephen Wraysford is sent to Amiens to find out what he can about the french textile industry. He finds himself obsessed with his host's wife, Isabelle and they have a passionate affair. Eventually, she and Stephen run away from Amiens together, but after discovering her pregnancy, Isabelle leaves Stephen for her old life. It is six years later when Stephen finds himself back in Amiens, but this time fighting for the British army as an officer who possesses an unbreakable determination to survive.

Faulks vividly depicts his characters and their lives that have been disrupted by the turmoil of WWI. He writes between two eras simultaneously to put the horrendous events of the war into perspective: Stephen's life in Amiens and on the front line, and 60 years after the war, his granddaughter, Elizabeth reads his diaries to try and understand her grandfather and the hardship he went through on the frontline.

Birdsong is mind-stirring and thought provoking. It is admirable how much research was done in creating this intriguing story based on facts and the effects of war. Although the events in this book seem so removed from reality, they are probably not far different from the conflicts of today, making it all the more intriguing. Birdsong sheds a unique insight into the past, and provides interesting facts about the war, such as the role of the miners and the dangers they encountered, making it eductational as well as enjoyable.

There are several book jacket designs for this novel, presumably, a new one for each edition. This is the design that featured on the copy I read. It employs a starkly simple technique of silhouette imagery and a limited colour palette.

Although it is advised not to read a book by its cover, from a designers perspective, the design on the front should conjure the same atmosphere and emotion as the text inside. This is achieved quite nicely, but even more so in the alternative design on the audio book and previous edition of the novel. The soldier's composure over the make-shift grave instantly grabs the attention of the viewer. There is an aire of mystery surrounding this figure as he has no features and no expression, but his grief and weariness can be felt through the powerful emotion evoked by the scene. The cloudy, duo tone sky creates a moody backdrop to the silhouette image of the soldier.

The type does not work so well on the featured book jacket as its
sheer size seems to overpower the effectiveness of the image, however, the delicate typeface used on the audio CD cover complements the silhouette. The Author's name is too large though and may work better at a smaller size.

Faulks is best known for his contribution to journalism, leaving teaching to become a reporter for the Daily Telegraph and later, Literary Editor for The Independent then Deputy Editor for the Independent on Sunday. In 1991, he left to concentrate on writing. Birdsong is his fourth novel, written in 1993, which shares links through location history and minor character with The Girl at the Lion D'Or (1989) and Charlotte Grey (1998).

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