Kate asks: Have you read Birdsong?
No, Kate. No, I haven’t. But it’s worse than that.
Many Christmasses ago, I bought the debut novel by Sebastian Faulks – The Girl at the Lion D’Or, newly published in hardback – as a present for my mother. She loved it, and duly complimented me on my selection. We don’t share many cultural interests, and so she must have been delighted that, for once, we had been able to forge a connection.
The only trouble was: I hadn’t read the book, nor indeed anything else by Sebastian Faulks, other than his weekly columns for the Independent On Sunday. It merely had been inspired guesswork on my part. The cover blurb looked promising, the artwork was nice, and I couldn’t readily find any sex or swearing in it. It had said “quality middlebrow read” to me, and so I had taken my chances.
Unable to bluff my way through the literary discussion that my mother seemed intent on initiating, I gently fessed up. No problem. She seemed fine about it.
A few years later, as part of my birthday present, my mother gave me a paperback copy of Faulks’s third novel, Birdsong. She had read it, loved it, and was keen to share her reading pleasure with me. As I appreciatively scanned the back cover, she offered up a brief introduction to the book, and expressed the hope that I would enjoy it as much as she did.
I got about thirty pages in, before giving up. Not because of any deficiencies in the writing, but simply because I am a lazy reader with a tiny concentration span, and had put the book aside for slightly too long. In other words, the moment had passed. It happens quite often.
The next time we met, a few months later, my mother brightly asked me how I had got on with the novel.
Shit. I had completely forgotten, and was totally unprepared. I mumbled something about not having finished it, and quickly changed the subject.
She concealed her disappointment well.
I still wince when I think about it.