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Birdcage Walk

Birdcage Walk

The novel by Helen Dunmore is set in Bristol in 1792. France is in the throes of the revolution and its impact is being felt all over Europe.

Lizzie Fawkes has married John Diner Tredevant a property developer who has invested all his assets in an ambitious project. He is building a terrace of grand houses overlooking the Gorge. However the properties are not selling as prospective buyers are growing increasingly concerned about the political situation and fear that England might soon be at war.

Diner, as he prefers to be called, has been married before and Lizzie understands that his first wife had died three years previously on a visit to family in France.  Lizzie's mother and stepfather were against her marrying him but there is no reason given in the narrative to explain why.  Lizzie is completely besotted with him and marries against their wishes. Julia and Augustus are Radicals and are supportive of the French Revolution.  Lizzie has been brought up to be an independent thinker, to make her own decisions and move about freely.  As Diner's financial situation worsens he becomes more controlling and his moods darken. The situation becomes more difficult for Lizzie as she takes on the responsibility of caring for her baby brother, following the death of her mother in childbirth. She becomes fearful for herself and the baby.

It was generally agreed the book was slow to start and did not match up to its description as a 'psychological thriller'.  Those of us who had read other Helen Dunmore novels did not think it was her best novel. As with all her books it is beautifully written.  The passages describing the Lizzie with baby Thomas were particularly moving. Her relationship with her mother was commented on as it seemed somewhat cloying.  It was also felt that the minor characters could have been developed further.  The group felt that the ending was rather abrupt almost as if it was finished in a hurry and wondered if the author's illness was a contributing factor.  However she does say in the afterword that she had finished the novel before she was aware of her illness.  Sadly she died in June 2017.

The majority of the group enjoyed the book.

Review by Ann Strang