Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

birdsong_sebastian_faulksBirdsong is the second novel in Sebastian Faulks’ French trilogy. Preceded by The Girl at the Lion d’Or and succeeded by Charlotte Gray. Although each novel is not directly linked, the novels relate in term of their themes and subject matters; they all graphically portray characters’ lives during war time. Birdsong is set around the First World War. The story itself centres around the character Stephen Wraysford who arrives in the French town of Amiens in 1910. Throughout the novel, we see the twist and turns of Stephen’s life, from his love affair which tears a family apart, to his participation in the war itself.

Birdsong is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a novel which keeps you on your toes and guessing about where the story is heading from beginning to end. The contrasts Faulks creates between life prior to the war and during the war is fascinating. By using vivid imagery, we as readers, get a thorough image of what life was like for soldiers fighting in the war. However, what Faulks does often and brilliantly, during more grotesque war scenes is leave many chapters on cliff hangers, by moving on to something new in the next. This you may feel is counterproductive, you may think how can you get a true grasp of the story this way. But Faulks writes in such a way that he divulges just enough information to understand the horrors of the war without making the reader feel so grotesque and so repulsed that they cannot continue with the story. This I feel was extremely effective in my reading of the novel as this technique continuously made me want to progress further and further with the novel.

As somebody who finds The Great War to be an extremely interesting topic I am a little bias when it comes to speaking about this novel. However, if you are going to read any piece of fiction that revisits this era I encourage you to make it Faulks’ novel. The descriptive language, the tone and passion that pours from the book makes this novel one in a million.


End note: Working Title Films (BBC) produced a two-part adaptation of Birdsong in 2012. The adaptation starred the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Richard Madden and Clémence Poésy. 


The Vegetarian – Han Kang


The Vegetarian is a novel by Han Kang. I came across this novel, translated by Deborah Smith, in Waterstones. It is not a novel I had heard about before but I just knew I had to give it a read. It also helped that one of the booksellers was saying how gruesome and slightly disturbing the story was!

The novel itself is short so I found myself getting through it quickly. It is split up into three ‘sections’. Each one comes from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes I do find this a little annoying as you can feel as though you are not properly connecting with a protagonist. However, upon reading this novel it is easy to see how keeping it written in a single perspective would just not work. Therefore, I feel it is giving us a more rounded picture as we progress through the novel.

The first section is narrated by Yeong-Hye’s husband, he tells us about his wife who in the first couple of lines he describes as being ‘completely unremarkable in every way.’ He informs the reader of Yeong-Hye’s choice to become a vegetarian. Although he himself is a little confused as to her reasons for this lifestyle choice, we as the reader get glimpses of her reasoning. We are giving the gruesome, slightly disturbing, ‘dream’ Yeong-Hye often refers to.

The second section is darker than the first. It is narrated by Mr Cheung, Yeong-Hye’s brother in law. Mr Cheung is an aspiring artist who becomes fascinated with his sister in law and a birthmark that she potentially has. Through this he asks Yeong-Hye to feature in one of his artistic creations, a video.

The third section is when the novel becomes very weird. It is narrated by Yeong-Hye’s sister and this is when we see the true progression of Yeong-Hye’s vegetarianism. We realise quickly how extreme Yeong-Hye’s desires have become, we learn that she wants to become a tree. Intent on becoming a tree, she refuses food and does some pretty bizarre things. Unaware it seems, how she is hurting those around her.

I found the book extraordinary. More so because it is unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s completely bizarre, but in this I feel it captures the essence of ‘madness’. As Ian McEwan is quoted on the cover: ‘A novel of sexuality and madness that deserves its great success’. For a reader, this ‘madness’ is completely over our heads. I personally found it difficult to keep up with, simply because it is not something I am able to fully understand. I feel this is similar for a lot of people. The point is though, even though it seems bizarre, it all makes sense to Yeong-Hye. Her thoughts, aspirations and actions all make perfect sense. To her they are not madness, but they are reality. This is something I find interesting; everyone’s reality is different. Although yes her actions may be killing her, it leaves me with a bit more of an understanding of what we deem ‘mad’. An understanding that people we brush off as just being ‘mad’ are simply seeing a different reality to the one I am seeing. Does that make it Yeong-Hye’s or anybody else’s fault? Definitely not, they have simply just been giving a different sense of reality.

Although I don’t believe this book is for everybody, it has been blessed with some brilliant reviews: The Guardian called it ‘an extraordinary experience’ and the Independent called it ‘spellbinding’. For this alone I would be enticed to see what the fuss was about. Therefore I encourage you to take a couple of hours and read Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, to see what you make of it yourself.


One Day – David Nicholls


one_day_david_nichollsThe latest novel I have read and have been eager to review is David Nicholls’ One Day. The novel was first published in 2009 so I realise I am late to the party. However, it is a piece of work which I have not had the chance and the motivation to read until very recently.

The novel tells the story of the two protagonist’s lives, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, over a twenty-year span. Zoning in on one day a year, 15th July (St Swithin’s Day) every year. The novel starts on the day they met, their graduation night. We see Emma struggle with the concept of a ‘one night stand’ in contrast to Dexter’s ‘Lothario’ characteristics, who knows these situations only too well. Over the years we see their friendship go through ups and downs as they progress throughout their own personal lives. Both characters struggle with what they are achieving throughout life and what they are expected to have achieved. Throughout all this though, Nicholls gives us an endearing tale of a close friendship, showcasing their flirtations, banter and often yearning they have for one another.

If your only contact with this novel is through the 2011 adaptation directed by Lone Scherfig, please do not let this hold you back from reading the novel. The film itself I believe got mixed reviews, many people picking up on Anne Hathaway’s (Emma) accent throughout the film. On watching the film, I found she often switches up her British accent, going from a thick northern accent to a far more southern one. Although this can be understandable as British people are known to flip between accents, personally I just feel the accent switches were just far too extreme. I am though not here to review the film but the novel. So, I will just say this: please do not watch the film and believe you have seen all that David Nicholls’ novel has to offer.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the structure and how Nicholls had crafted it. I have yet to come across another novel which holds a similar writing method. In the way that Nicholls drops in on his characters just one day a year. I was dubious at first, unable to contemplate how Nicholls could create such an in depth and emotional story when we only get glimpses of his protagonist’s lives. I was pleasantly surprised though, i found the characters developed effectively, and with that the story progressed just as well. I found it interesting that we as readers watched the two characters grow from university students and progress into their early and then later adulthood. This I found effective as I am so used to reading novels where we only see just the snippet of a character’s life. We only experience one aspect of their life where some event is going on or something has happened to them. Nicholls’ novel however I feel is far more realistic in that we experience the characters’ numerous ups and downs through their life. We are given the realism in that life doesn’t run smoothly bar one or two negative/happy events. Thus demonstrating that life is far more complicated than that.

This therefore is a book I would recommend. I found that once I started reading it I did struggle to put the novel down. This I feel is always a telling sign as to whether the book is any good or not. After all who wants to continue reading a book that doesn’t entice you in to read more? So whether you are a fan of a good romance novel or simply want to try something new, delving into the world of One Day and experiencing 20 years of Emma and Dexter’s life is definitely something you should be considering.


I Let You Go – Clare Makintosh


I have just recently finished reading I Let You Go, the debut novel and Sunday Times bestseller by Clare Mackintosh. The novel was ‘the fastest selling title by a new crime writer in 2015’ ( Naturally I had high standards. It is not often that an author’s first novel does so amazingly! Crime and Thriller fiction is actually something which I have only just recently discovered. Having caught up in the excitement of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train I have become a lover of this genre of fiction. Like others that enjoy this genre of writing, I love the suspense, the plot twists, and how gripped I get when I am reading the story. I often have to force myself to take a break just to lengthen the experience of reading such a novel.

I admit I am terrible. The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is universally used, yet what do I do? I always judge a book by its cover. Granted the saying usually is not used to refer to an actual book. The concept though is there. I feel if the book cover does not talk to me and intrigue me then the story won’t either – And I know this is silly. I could and more than likely am missing out on some great pieces of work, but I cannot stop myself. When it came to I Let You Go the novels cover is something which excited me. The image used from a company credited as ‘Arcangel’ spoke to my ‘I need to know more’ side. I just couldn’t help but to envisage somebody solemnly looking out of the window to a bleak, cold, rainy day. Something which you automatically associate with a person feeling down, and i just couldn’t help but wonder why and what was going on. The accompanying butterfly I also found interesting because butterflies are meant to represent new life, change and joy, which contrasted greatly to the surrounding image. So from the get go I was excited to delve into Mackintosh’s story.

The novel itself I can only describe as amazing. It is fast-paced, intense and complete with numerous twists that I did not see coming. The little bits of writing on the front of the book and the blurb on the reverse initially tell us that the story is likely to revolve around a ‘tragic accident’. Usually I tend to try and guess what happens at the end of novels whilst I am reading them. However I gave up doing this whilst reading I Let You Go. This was because when I thought I had a grip on where the story was taking me Mackintosh would seem to throw in another twist. Thus I don’t believe I would have ever come to the conclusions that this novel presents. Which is fantastic! As it can sometimes be disheartening when you have the story all sussed out.

Another great thing about this novel for me was how much I reacted to it. The chapters of the novel tend to change perspectives to enable the reader a more rounded story. However one of these perspectives towards the end of the novel began to infuriate me. It was definitely a struggle to read as I just wanted to hit the character. Although I found myself developing this great hate for one of Mackintosh’s characters I couldn’t help but find myself loving the character at the same time. It was a pretty great addition to the novel and I applaud Mackintosh’s ability to write a character which produces such great emotions from a reader.

Thus this is a novel that I would highly recommend anybody reading! Whether you’re interested in crime novels or not this is a page turner for anyone which will shock you right up until the last pages!