Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West

I've got a bit of a Russian Revolution 'thang goin' on' at the mo. I'm a quarter of the way through War and Peace (putting it down for breathers!) and am half way through Kate Furnivall's excellent The Jewel of St Petersburg which is also set in pre-revolutionary Russia. In the 'published in 1966' books I'm reading from 1001 Books the next tome is Rebecca West's The Birds Fall Down.

Set over a few days during the events leading up to the Russian Revolution, it is the story of eighteen year old Laura's unwitting involvement. The novel is a combination of historical, political thriller and psychological character study. It involves Laura's emergence from childhood innocence to awareness of political intrigue.

Dame Rebecca West was born in 1892 and died in 1983 aged ninety one. Born Cicely Isabel Fairfield in London her Anglo-Irish father left the family when she was eight and died soon after. Moving with her mother and sisters to Edinburgh she left school at sixteen due to lack of funds. She trained as an actress in London, taking her name from an Ibsen play and became involved in the suffrage movement.

After a critical review of an H.G.Wells' novel they met and became lovers and were together for ten years. West had a son, Anthony with whom she had an unhappy relationship in later years. Politically active she wrote essays and reviews and lectured in the U.S. In 1930 she married banker Henry Maxwell Andrews.

She traveled widely and reported on broader political and social issues including the Nuremberg trials and apartheid issues and was particularly affected by the Dreyfus affair. The Birds Fall Down was her last novel and is thought to have been influenced from when her journalist father brought home Russian revolutionaries to debate in the family home.

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