An author who has achieved an enviable blend of literary merit and huge commercial success across a varied and experimental career, Sebastian Faulks is still best-known for his French trilogy, including the tour-de force novel of the First World War, Birdsong, The Girl at the Lion D’or and the classic novel of the French Resistance Charlotte Gray.
Sebastian Faulks received the news that his novel, A Trick of the Light, had been accepted for publication in a phone-box on Holborn Viaduct. It was in fact, the fourth novel he’d written but the first he thought worth publishing.
He worked as a journalist, first for The Telegraph, then The Independent where he remained even after the publication of his second novel The Girl at the Lion d’Or, a story about a passionate affair set against the backdrop of issues of individual and communal guilt, reparation and loss in the aftermath of WWI. The novel was widely praised with the FT calling it ‘an unusual and moving novel in which courage and abnegation are pitted against illicit but total love.’ The novel became the first in his French trilogy, succeeded by his career-defining novel Birdsong.
The First Fine Careless RaptureBirdsong, which traces the life of Stephen Wraysford, a young man stationed at Amiens during the war, alongside the efforts of his granddaughter to understand his experiences, was based on an article Faulks wrote for The Independent having interviewed veterans returning to France searching for the graves of their comrades, he said "at the moment… the war seemed to stop being "history" and to become real."
The novel was a huge commercial success, being transmuted to stage and screen as well as becoming a staple on both school and university reading lists. It enabled Faulks to devote himself to writing full-time, completing his French trilogy with a tautly-paced novel of the French Resistance in WWII, Charlotte Gray.
From the Gentleman’s Gentleman to the Man with the Golden GunFaulks’ literary career has been a varied one, taking him from 1960’s New York in On Green Dolphin Street and Italy in the 1940’s in Where My Heart Used to Beat, to a contemporary state-of-the-nation satire in A Week in December. He has returned again and again to ideas of psychological motivation and mental illness from early works like A Fool’s Alphabet to Engleby a novel which The Times called "a portrait of one mind out of joint with its times."
He has never been afraid to be experimental, choosing in his novel A Possible Life to reflect the myriad possibilities in a single life through chance encounters with very different characters in very different moments in space and time.
More recently he has indulged his flair for stylistic mimicry, taking on the mantle of first Ian Flemming for the Bond Centenary novel Devil May Care and then that of P.G. Wodehouse for Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, a book The Guardian described as a ‘pretty remarkable performance’.
Whether writing comedy or tragedy, Faulks has nothing but the highest esteem for his medium, wanting to write not just entertainingly but well. He does not think good literature must always be easy but he does think it should reward. He says "My ideal relationship with the reader is that at certain points they will have said 'I'm finding this quite tough but I'm going to hang in there', then at the end they will say "oh God, I'm glad I hung on, it was so worth it'."
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