Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A deceptively easy read with depths which are not immediately evident. A glorious and thought-provoking book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: June 2012
Publisher: Picador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1447219866

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In the early nineteen fifties a lonely, middle-aged farmer observed the birds on his land and recorded what he saw in the blank pages of his milk ledger. His animals and the birds were his family and his land - difficult though it could be - a part of him. Whilst Harry watched and recorded, his neighbour, Betty, watched Harry and recorded the childhood illnesses and accidents of her two children. By day she worked in a nursing home where she was a lunchtime 'wife', sitting at the bedside of some of the old men in her care. Her daughter, Hazel, kept a nature notebook which was completely factual and accepting of birth and death in a way that can only be achieved by those who live with livestock - and deadstock - on a daily basis.

Mateship with Birds was originally a book of bird notes from Australian writer Alec Chisholm, first published in 1922 and you might be thinking this is just another look at a rural life in a harsh but beautiful part of Australia, where people struggle to make a living. But it's far, far more than that. It's a deceptively slim book and a ridiculously easy read. You could be forgiven for thinking that it's lightweight - when it's anything but. It's a book which continues to grow on you long after you've finished reading.

The writing is incredible. Let's take those bird notes which Harry makes in his ledger. They read like a free-form poem - but that's not the point. The point is that when I read them (and occasionally re-read them) I believed that Harry was capable of the neat turn of phrase which brings the birds to life, makes them fly from the page. The cows, the birds, the farm dog all come to life as personalities in their own right. There's sharp observation there - it's delivered in very few words - and it comes with an obvious affection for them and for the humans who live around them.

It's an incisive look at what makes a family - and it's not just related people living in proximity. Young Michael begins to lean towards Harry as the only likely father figure around. (The only other candidate is a sexually deviant neighbour and we can only be grateful that Michael made the right choice there.) Harry takes his (assumed) responsibilities seriously - to the extent of giving advice about sex. And what advice it is - almost a road map at times, completes with descriptions of sensation, texture and comparisons, some of which are slightly unfortunate, if to the point. There's a glorious thread of humour runs through the book, of the type which made me glad that I don't make a habit of drinking whilst reading.

The book works superbly well, not least because of Carrie Tiffany's total acceptance of the human body - and sexual desire - for what they are: absolutely natural. The book's highly recommended and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

There were moments when I was put in mind of Fup by Jim Dodge - and that's a good memory to have.

Buy Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany at

Buy Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany at


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