Birdcage Walk

Birdcage Walk

by Helen Dunmore


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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.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802127143
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Helen Dunmore is the author of fourteen novels. Her first, Zennor in Darkness, won the McKitterick Prize. Her third novel, A Spell of Winter, won the inaugural Orange Prize, now the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her bestselling novel The Siege was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year and the Orange Prize.

Read an Excerpt

It was past nine o’clock now and he was still absent. Sarah and Philo had gone to their attic, while I sat by the fire, in a good light, with my work. I was making a shirt for him. He didn’t like to see me sewing when we were together—I should send the work out, he said—but he would change his mind when he put on the shirt. The linen was fine and I had measured him exactly. There were gussets under the arms so that he could stretch and move freely, as he had to. I sewed well and quickly, and my eyes were strong. I intended to make him half a dozen shirts, with his initials embroidered into the hems. He would pay four times as much for shirts of this quality from a tailor. We ought to have saved money, and lived in rooms.

I knew that Diner had sunk a great deal of money in the building of the terrace. The whole of his capital, I suspected, and he had borrowed many times more. The profit, he said, would come once all the houses were sold. The two large houses at each end of the terrace would have elegant columns and fine detailing in the stonework. The architect, Mr Fellingbourne, had designed the terrace so that these end houses would be more than twice the width of ours. They would not only be splendid, but they would have all the latest conveniences. A cold plunge bath was to be installed in the basement of each of the end houses, to attract the wealthiest and most discerning purchasers. But first, there must be foundations.

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Birdcage Walk 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Chrissie_W More than 1 year ago
A quiet novel, yet buzzing with life, Birdcage Walk is a landmine of a tale on the human experience. When I say 'quiet'—I mean it. Like humming. Like a whisper. Like a story being relayed secretly in a dark room. In fact, its slow nature made me afraid that it would dip into the realm of boring, but it never did. It moved along with increasing and surprising urgency. The narrator, Elizabeth, is not terribly young in age, but incredibly naïve in spirit and awareness. So, we almost have a bildungsroman here, as she grows and changes in small ways throughout the book. Her eyes open and she finds her voice all while being surrounded by a mystery she slowly comes to acknowledge. Despite its slower pace, I was pleased to find this story an incredibly engaging one with broad, expansive characters and fully realized settings. The atmosphere is tight, constrained, and claustrophobic, as written by Dunmore, pressing down on the reader as Lizzie stumbles her way through this astoundingly important time in her life. This is a deep and moving novel with the French Revolution and the events leading up to France declaring war on England as the backdrop. Despite that heavy time in history serving as the background, the focus remains on Lizzie throughout the book. However, Lizzie's mother, Julia, is the reason we dive into the story. The novel opens with a man and his dog discovering the grave marker for Julia Fawkes. This man learns that Julia was a pamphleteer in England during the time leading up to the French Revolution. All her work has been lost, and even we as the readers never discover more than a tiny snippet of her writing ability. This novel's author, Helen Dunmore died of cancer earlier this year, and I love that there's an afterword in her own voice about her experience writing this book. There's something very poignant about this author writing about another writer whose words have been lost. A beautifully and intimately written historical fiction novel with dashes of suspense, mystery, coming-of-age, and drama all rolled into one.
whatsbetterthanbooks More than 1 year ago
Poignant, ominous, and remarkable descriptive! Birdcage Walk takes us back to Bristol in the late 1790s when France was full of unrest, war was on the horizon, and the British people struggled with impoverishment, scarcity, impending disaster, and financial ruin. The prose is expressive and raw. The main characters include the maternal, independent, supportive Lizzie and the jealous, iron-fisted, ruined Tredevant. And the plot, although a little slow in the middle, is laced from start to finish with an underlying feeling of despair and a real, palpable bleakness as the ongoing drama, social strife, economic uncertainty, marital tension, and increasing violence unravels. I have to admit that even though Birdcage Walk is not my favourite novel by Dunmore, it is still a beautiful, haunting tale that highlights her talent of writing historical fiction that moves, informs, and leaves a lasting impression. The passing of Dunmore earlier this year is certainly a tremendous loss for the literary world and to quote from the inscription on the grave of her fictional character in this novel, “Her Words Remain Our Inheritance.”
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the book despite its leaving many questions unresolved. The book reminded me at times of lesser known books by Daphne du Maurier. The action takes place in England during the French revolution. Lizzie's mother Julia Fawkes is a radical. These radicals want to end the class system in England and they closely watched by the British authorities. From a distance, they watch the revolution in France. While Lizzie is attached to her mother, she marries John Diner Tredevant a property developer with big plans. He is at odds with Lizzie's mother and the radicals. I wished the novel had stopped here. The book raises interesting questions while not answering them. Who becomes a radical and why? The novel starts but telling us that Julia Fawkes while well known in her time has been forgotten. We never find out the answer of why she was forgotten. The daughter Lizzie while very fond of her mother seems to want a different kind of life from her mother and one that is more materialistic and in the mainstream of society. However, as the novel progresses the people become more stereotypically good or bad people. I wish the novel more stuck to the issue of radicals and how they relate to the community about them. While it was not a perfect book, it held me interest and I enjoyed it. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for a honest review.