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Birchwood (Vintage International) [Kindle Edition]

John Banville
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $12.95
Kindle Price: $7.99
You Save: $4.96 (38%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

An early classic from the Man Booker-prize winning author of The Sea.

I am therefore I think. So starts John Banville’s 1973 novel Birchwood, a novel that centers around Gabriel Godkin and his return to his dilapidated family estate. After years away, Gabriel returns to a house filled with memories and despair. Delving deep into family secrets—a cold father, a tortured mother, an insane grandmother—Gabriel also recalls his first encounters with love and loss. At once a novel of a family, of isolation, and of a blighted Ireland, Birchwood is a remarkable and complex story about the end of innocence for one boy and his country, told in the brilliantly styled prose of one of our most essential writers.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews


“This is one of the most startling of the century's varied achievements in Irish writing.”
—Seamus Deane

"John Banville is one of the greatest masters of the English language.”
The Scotsman

"Birchwood represents a watershed in contemporary Irish writing..”
—Colm Toibin

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of fourteen previous novels including The Sea, which won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.

Product Details

  • File Size: 443 KB
  • Print Length: 178 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 030727912X
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 29, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002BH5HLC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #828,105 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story filled with many small and big pleasures July 24, 2007
The novels of John Banville cannot be read in a rush. His phrases are achingly beautiful and so densely packed that they demand slowness and savoring. Birchwood, one of his earliest novels, from 1973, re-released in a Vintage International edition, is no exception.

Drawing on his Irish roots, Banville has set Birchwood on an estate by that name in Ireland. Gabriel Godkin is a man returned to his family's ruined estate, looking back through his childhood at the truths of his family and his country. Through an extended flashback, we see Gabriel struggle with a cold father, a crazed mother and grandmother, all wobbling on the edges of an insanity that Gabriel acknowledges runs through his own blood. At the same time, in the background, we see Ireland falling apart as the people starve through the potato famine, the landed gentry lose their precarious place in the society, and Gabriel escapes from his family and finds his way into the traveling circus.

Through this strange transition from landed gentry to itinerate performer, Banville allows Gabriel to explore the idea of family-the ones we are born into and with whom we are forever connected by blood, and the ones we cobble together in the courses of our strange lives-and come to terms with his own self and his history.

Banville is a master at developing characters and exploring their interior landscapes while the characters are exploring some exterior one. Poetic and careful, he affords the reader a series of small pleasures as he describes and conjures interesting people and places.

Early in the novel, Gabriel explains " was as if in the deep wood's gloom I had recognized, in me all along, waiting, an empty place where I could put the most disparate things and they would hang together.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable April 4, 2000
By A Customer
I read this straight after 'The Book of Evidence' and although it didnt captivate me to the same degree, it is nevertheless a well crafted piece of literature. The author has an awesome talent for creating interestingly offbeat characters. I look forward to reading more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars birchwood by john banville March 9, 2006
Thoroughly enjoyed book. dig a little deeper, think a bit harder. beautiful prose, poignant symbolism viewed from a younger perspective with some dark humour thrown in. john banville sings to you.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A surprise find. I'll be reading more. March 10, 2009
This book was a shot in the dark, a completely random pull from the library shelf. Never underestimate the power of cover art. That, combined with the striking single-word title, an Irish setting, and a brief description on the back that made the story sound worthy of Masterpiece Theatre, piqued my interest. In turn, my spontaneous choice rewarded me with a new author to explore further.

About two pages into Birchwood, Banville's stylized prose hit me like a brick wall and I thought I'd never be able to get through the entire book, no matter how slim the volume. I kept with it and it didn't take long before I was flowing with the rhythm and thoroughly immersed in the story.

I use the word `story' loosely since there isn't much plot. Birchwood is one man's recollection of his childhood growing up on a slowly decaying Irish estate surrounded by the eccentric, the insane, and the dark secrets of his family. Gothic stuff to say the least. Birchwood seeps with a nearly tangible sense of place. At the same time, my only criticism of the story would be my confusion about the time period in which it's set. (References to the great famine and Molly Maguires later in the book place it much earlier than I'd originally thought, though the story itself feels quite contemporary.) No matter, I was intrigued throughout and afterward wished I'd read it for book club as there's plenty of material to generate interesting discussion. Banville is definitely on my list to read deeper into his bibliography.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Andrew Prior Cape Town January 15, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It took me some time to realise that Banville had set this early book against the backdrop of the Irish potato famine but by then it didn't seen all that important intent as he is in providing analyses and descriptions of his retinue of personalities who march in and out of the book like characters on a stage. Yes, he did it well enough in this intriguing book to have set him apart as a promising novelist who did not disappoint in his later works. It still puzzles me why he also had to personalise inanimate nature and objects to the extent that he did I'm not sure what it means to say that an armchair has a look of surprise; or a room a suspicious glance; or a farmyard a feeling of tranquility. But I suppose that it what metaphors are supposed to do....however once or twice in a book they may work but more often than that they sink taloned fingers into your throat.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Banville worth reading July 1, 2013
By Helen
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an early work of John Banville and introduces us to many of his themes. As usual, his writing is haunting and excellent.
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More About the Author

John Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland, in 1945. He is the author of thirteen previous novels including The Book of Evidence, which was shortlisted for the 1989 Booker Prize. He has received a literary award from the Lannan Foundation. He lives in Dublin.

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