Hello everyone, today I thought I’d talk to you about Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore. Set in Bristol 1792, we follow Lizzie Fawkes who has lived in Radical circles her whole life. However she is married to John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is incredibly possessive of her, to the point he had previously had her followed. As the French Revolution presses on, the Radicals enthusiastic and her husband worried about the prospect of war, Lizzie finds herself caught between these two ideologies and very much alone.
The characterisation of Lizzie was the highlight for me. She is a very well-rounded character and the perfect narrator for this story. Torn between both views concerning the Revolution, the reader is given information and arguments from both sides through Lizzie’s perspective, allowing you to see the different attitudes of the period. Yet Dunmore gives her protagonist such a strong personality she doesn’t become a wallflower. She is quietly confident and self-assured. Unlike her mother or her husband, who writes pamphlets and builds houses respectively, Lizzie does not make a statement to the world nor does she need to. Her actions speak louder and I found her very admirable and stoic.
The main theme of this book, about the legacy we will leave behind, becomes even more poignant knowing that this is the last novel published before Dunmore’s passing. While she was seriously ill when editing Birdcage Walk, she did not know about it but the link between reality and fiction is eerie.
The legacies alluded to in the novel range from the aforementioned writings and buildings, leaving their marks on either minds or landscapes to the more far-reaching changes of the French Revolution. Yet there are also the smaller moments, ones that might go unnoticed, such as when Lizzie looks after her baby brother Thomas. Our relationship with others, and the effects our actions have (or not) on following generations was handled beautifully by Dunmore.
While there is plenty to enjoy, there were a couple of issues I had. The first one was a forced romance which I felt didn’t add anything to the overall plot. The characters involved only share three or four brief scenes, so there wasn’t a lot of development between the two, subsequently making me not care about that relationship. There didn’t seem to be any reason why they were attracted to one another. If it had been edited out I wouldn’t have missed it.
Also I was a little disappointed in the ending. The chapters leading up to it are incredibly taunt and tense, the kind where you need to carry on and see what happens next. But the conclusion fell flat. I found it anti-climactic, and I wished these characters had a better send off.
Overall Birdcage Walk was a perfectly fine novel. If you’re fans of Dunmore or historical fiction in general you might like this. However I’m not sure it worked as a thriller, mainly due to the ending. The romance felt pointless and a couple of plot points were predictable. I thought she might do something different with those tropes but that never happened. So I have very mixed feelings. Some of passages are Dunmore at her finest whilst others I could have easily skipped.
Birdcage Walk is published by Windmill and you can find more information here.