Monday, 28 June 2010

The birds fall down (West) 235

I've had varied success with Rebecca West, I loved The return of the soldier, didn't get on with either Harriet Hume or The thinking reed, and wasn't hugely fussed, but found ok, her Cousin Rosamund trilogy. I was intrigued by what I read about The birds fall down and was hugely pleased to discover that I quite enjoyed reading this mix of political thriller and family story, and didn't even mind the philosophical elements (which were what I struggled with in Harriet Hume and The thinking reed) although it was very long winded and is really quite difficult to write about.

The book is based around the character of eighteen-year-old Laura. Her father is a British MP, her mother, Tania, is the daughter of an exiled Russian royalist. Laura and Tania set out for France to stay with Tania's parents. Tania's mother is ill, and so Laura is then dispatched with her grandfather to stay on the coast. Whilst they make the journey by train, their carriage is invaded by a Russian who subjects the pair to a long diatribe about Russia and suggests that the Tsar is making schemes to protect himself, getting rid of others in the process. Essentially, this is all somewhat of a precursor to the Russian revolution.

The best things about the book for me was reading about Laura; the worst things were the long bits of dialogue dealing with politics - there is a scene set on the train (which West claims was a depiction of real events) which goes on for over 100 pages!

It's been published three times by Virago, and I had the second, italic green edition, from the library. Apparently the BBC also made it into a TV serial.


  1. I really struggled with The Fountain Overflows and gave up so I've avoided further West. I even passed up an original green The Return of the Soldier the other day in bookshop (I have the reformatted green version).

    Does she also have a VMC, Sunflowers? I love the cover of that :)

  2. I read this a few years ago and loved it, both for the possibly true bits and the way the family relationships are revealed, especially the way the family relationships are revealled, and the question mark at the end over the future because we know what history has in store!

  3. 100 pages of political dialogue, good grief!

  4. Claire - The return of the soldier is the best of the ones that I have read by West; definitely worth reading, and worth owning in original fgreen. Sunflowers does have a pretty cover, but I don't own it...

    Hayley - yes, our hindsight makes it very interesting indeed.

    Hannah - yes, I agree!

  5. Hoorah! I knew you'd like a Rebecca West eventually :)

  6. I also set aside The Fountain Overflows, but I think it was a matter of timing. I liked The Return of the Soldier and have this one on my pile--I've heard good things about it. It seems like the sort of book you need to be in the right mood for.