Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines

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Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A haunting story of love, fear, betrayal and motherhood. Best read when you're in a cheerful frame of mind...
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 144 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Salt Publishing
ISBN: 978-1844717217

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Becoming a mother brings a whole new world of fear into your life. Suddenly you see the danger in every situation, and fear and trepidation can become your constant companions. In this novella, we meet a young mother who is married to a logical scientist. They attempt to control their children's futures on a scientific basis, growing their own fruit and vegetables, giving their children nothing sugary, eating no eggs for a whole year until any adverse effects from them were disproved. But after meeting with an enigmatic stranger our young mother begins to struggle as he introduces ideas of freedom into her world. She begins an affair with him, begins to let things slip at home and with the children, yet finds she is still continuously haunted by the sense of ever-present danger.

This is a very sparse, poetic story and not one to read if you're feeling a bit blue or tend towards a very nervous disposition! Fear and magic run throughout the story in which we see not only a woman falling in love but also the breakdown of a marriage and its effects on her oldest child. I felt quite fraught by the end of it, for the mother is continually on edge, seeing things, hearing things, things just out of reach or caught from the corner of her eye, hinted at, suggested... Motherhood and marriage, the stresses and strains of both situations, are wrapped up in amongst magic and temptation.

That edgy feeling is very cleverly created with the simplest of phrases and quite a bare style to the writing. It often felt like poetry, and some of the phrases are lovely, very evocative, for example, Silence, apart from the swish of cars on the main road three streets away; further off, the intermittent hum of the motorway, and beneath it all, that other hum, cutting across it, under, the hum of the world's turning, perhaps, or molecules released, exchanging substance in the air. There is a reveal towards the end of the story which I won't spoil here, but I had already guessed roughly what was coming. I should point out, however, that I also spent quite a few pages thinking that the story was even more magical than it actually turned out to be since I thought the mystery man she has an affair with was also some sort of shape-shifter who was able to turn into a magpie...I know! Probably reading far too late into the night...

Anyway, this is a lovely piece of writing, although I did feel, at times, that it was a bit like a short story that had been excessively stretched to make it into a novella. I grew a little tired of our leading lady, her constant fearfulness, and I wondered if perhaps the impact of her fear and situation might have had more impact in a briefer format.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For a rather more radical story about motherhood try We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver but if you're struggling as a new mum or mum-to-be then you might find this practical book more helpful! You might enjoy Catch by Simon Robson.

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