Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Competition published on March 10, 2017.

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.

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.

In a tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror, Diner’s passion for Lizzie darkens until she finds herself dangerously alone.


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Reviewer Maddy Broome takes a 5 star view:

Another good read by Helen Dunmore. Hopefully this won’t be her last but she has announced that she has recently been diagnosed with cancer. (Guardian Review 4th March) This has made her think about legacy; ‘what is left behind by a life’? This is one of the themes of this book. The novel looks at ‘memory, historical record, what remains, what is saved and what is lost.’ It begins with a man walking in a cemetery with his dog and discovering an overgrown gravestone. The inscription on it is to Julia Elizabeth Fawkes and says the stone was raised ‘In the presence of her many Admirers’. But who is Julia Fawkes and why was she admired? His research leads him to information about a small group of radicals in Bristol at the time of the French Revolution. The novel then concentrates on their story and in particular Julia’s daughter, Lizzie. She has rebelled against her radical upbringing and married into seeming comfort and respectability. Her husband is a successful speculative builder- until the turmoil in France effects businesses in England too.

The women in the book are all strong characters. Julia, the radical campaigner and writer; Lizzie her strong independent though somewhat naïve daughter and their respective maidservants, Hannah and Philo. In her afterword, Helen Dunmore comments that women’s lives often remain unrecorded but that they also ‘shape the future’. It seems apt that I should be writing this review on International Women’s Day!

There is a lot of historical background in this novel, as there is in all Dunmore’s books and that is part of what makes them enjoyable. But what else makes them good to read is the well developed characters and storylines. The writing just flows along – I nearly read this in one sitting. This would be an excellent bookgroup choice as well as a good personal read.


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About the author

Helen Dunmore is the author of fourteen novels. Her first, Zennor in Darkness, explored the events which led to D H Lawrence’s expulsion from Cornwall (on suspicion of spying) during the First World War. It won the McKitterick Prize. Her third novel, A Spell of Winter, won the inaugural Orange Prize, now the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction. Her bestselling novel The Siege, set during the Siege of Leningrad, was described by Antony Beevor as ‘a world-class novel’ and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year and the Orange Prize. The Lie, set during and just after the First World War, was  been nominated for the Folio Prize, shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize.  She has also written a ghost story, The Greatcoat, under the Hammer imprint. Helen Dunmore’s work has been translated into more than thirty languages and she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore, published on 2 March, 2017 by Hutchinson, in hardback



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