Summary and book reviews of Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk

by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore X
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2018, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror from one of our greatest storytellers.

It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol's housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie's independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants - his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.

2

March 1792
I woke up first. His arm lay across me and I shifted a little but still it lay there, heavy and full of muscle, holding me down. My head cleared and I remembered how we had fallen asleep. My eyes settled to the darkness and found objects in it: the heavy lodging- house furniture that cluttered the room even though I had cleared out as much of it as I could. It seemed to breed in the night.

There were shadows everywhere. The shutters were open and the windows stared. There was the moon in the top right- hand pane.

But the moon was inside too. It had got into the bedroom while we were sleeping. Its light walked about over the bedstead, over the chest, the basin in its stand and the blue- and- white jug. It was a restless thing and I could not lie still.

I moved my legs a little. Our skin unpeeled, thigh from thigh. I was sticky. I wanted to wash myself, but his arm held me down. There was clean water in the jug. I wanted to pour some into my hands and drink it, and then ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Birdcage Walk contains all the elements required in a first-rate gothic novel. Dunmore expertly portrays the tensions and simmering sexual violence in Diner and Lizzie's marriage. The reader suspects from the outset what Lizzie does not – that Diner has killed Lucy several years previously and buried her body in nearby woods. The question here becomes not so much whether this truth will come out, as whether Lizzie will have the strength to find and face the facts about her husband. Even if she does, can she find the will to save herself from a spouse to whom she remains strongly physically attracted?   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Full Review (613 words).

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Media Reviews

Suzi Feay, The Spectator
Perhaps there's a hint of Dorothea Brooke and the famous conclusion of Middlemarch - that obscure lives may nevertheless exert an unquantifiable influence on the future... The result is a chilling work of domestic horror where no crust, candle nor cabbage goes uncounted.

Clare Clark, The Guardian (UK)
Birdcage Walk does not reach the heights of Dunmore's best work. While there is no doubting the grisly horror of the events unfolding in Paris, their effect on the novel's protagonists is too often tangential, the threat more theoretical than real. Touching as they sometimes are, the relentlessly domestic preoccupations of much of the middle part of the novel lack urgency, causing the pace to sag. That said, the novel offers many delights. Dunmore could not write an ugly sentence if she tried and she has an extraordinary gift for taking the ordinary and familiar and rendering them new.

Francesca Segal, Financial Times (UK)
The Revolution powers this novel but it is a huge, low thrumming invisible engine beneath it, and the consequences that concern and engage us are the private, the personal. Every scene is saturated with vivid period detail but Dunmore's touch is feather-light, and the result makes for a satisfying and deceptively easy read, mounting from unease to frank terror as Diner's derangement and urge for control become manifest.

Margaret Madden, The Irish Times
Helen Dunmore's delicate prose brings the atmosphere to life, and through Lizzie we see the glimmer of future feminism; Dunmore's portrayal of grief is painfully honest and raw. ... this is a perfect example of how hidden stories of the past can be brought to life.

Kirkus Reviews
Middling Dunmore, but middling Dunmore is still damn fine. Her death at 64 is a real loss.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore Helen Dunmore was born in Yorkshire, England in 1952. In a career spanning three decades she published fifteen novels, three short story collections, prize-winning children's fiction and twelve collections of poetry. Her final novel, Birdcage Walk, was published in 2017, as was her last poetry collection, Inside the Wave. Dunmore died on June 5, 2017, aged 64.

Of her many novels, most are works of historical fiction, ranging in time and setting from ancient Rome in Counting the Stars (2008) to the Cold War world of espionage in Exposure (2016). Her debut, Zennor in Darkness (1993) was set in World War I. Twentieth century conflicts, and their effects on individuals and families are subjects she returned to frequently. Many of her ...

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