92. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks (1993)

For a short while in the early 90s, there seemed to be a lot of really good, satisfying contemporary fiction coming out and I thought ‘wow, maybe I won’t have to read Victorian and early C20th novels for the rest of my life’. Birdsong was one of those books, and I devoured it with the kind of delight and amazement that doesn’t come along that often. At the time, what overwhelmed me was the subject matter, particularly the big finale relating to Stephen’s experiences in the trenches in 1918. It’s uncannily similar to my grandfather’s WW1 experience: he was left for dead and only rescued by chance, then came home to sire nine children. In retrospect I can see that it fits into this list for other reasons – the historical setting, of course, but also the way in which Faulks tells a story about the past through the prism of the present, jumping between timezones and narrators with lightness of touch and for a good reason, rather than just because he can. I’m sorry to say I found Faulks’s subsequent stuff a bit disappointing – he must be sick to death of hearing that – and I’ve carefully avoided the stage and TV adaptations.

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