Because Birdsong is the Dog’s Bollocks. End of.
Longer version: continuing my bookshelf A-Z of favourite authors and their top stories. F’s not a prolific author surname, but there are some standouts, Ian Fleming, much derided in the 1050s by sniffy contemporaries like Graham Greene for being a hack not an artist – but um, let’s see – Brighton Rock or 25 Bond films and counting? Then there’s Jonathan Frantzen for his magnifient The Corrections – surely one of the finest novels of recent generations, And the incomparable F. Scott Fitzgerald with his masterpiece The Great Gatsby – period-heavy tale of love, obsession, class and teh American Dream (again sniffed at by his contemporaries).
So why am I choosing Sebastian Faulks’ BIrdsong over Bond or Gatsby? Well The Bond novels don’t represent great writing even though the character is, undewniably, iconic and enduring. And Gatsby? There’s a car-crawh plot contrivance at the end that’s always bothered me. Bridsong’s not without its issues either, It’s mostly set against the backdrop of the First World War but for the first 100 pages or so (it’s a long novel) there’s nary a trench in sight – early on, the story concentrates on an illicit love affair between a British businessman and a married Frenchwoman. And then the war kicks in. Layered, intricate and engaging, Birdsong timeslips before, during and after the war to great effect examining love, loss, war and sacrifice. The (relatively) modern day sections are probably a mistake, but they’re short. And there’s a sequence towards the end – where our hero is trapped in tunnels under enemy lines – that build up suspense and tension better than any writing I can recall. Astounding writing. F is for Faulks and for Birdsong.