3.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
A tiny scrap of a bird had fallen from a tree in a road in London and if someone hadn’t of picked it up it would have been dead by the following morning. Thirty years earlier another bird had fallen from a steeple and that was found and picked up. The bird in London was a magpie and was taken to a man called Charlie Gilmour by his girlfriend. The other was a jackdaw and it was given to his father all those years ago when he was living in some squalor in a Cornish stately home.
Charlie’s father was a man called Heathcote Williams a poet, writer and anarchist who abandoned him and his mother when he was two years old. Williams work was prolific as his life was turbulent. He has almost nothing to do with Charlie as he grew up, and he became the adopted song of the Pink Floyd guitarist, Dave Gilmour.
Charlie was fortunate that his adopted father was a stable presence, but the genes that tormented his father had a similar effect on him. He had issues with drugs and whilst at university was arrested and imprisoned for violent disorder after an incident at the Cenotaph in London. He was slowly returning to stability with
Both of these corvids would profoundly change the men in their own way.
This book is about that tormented relationship and so much more. He had been estranged from his stepsisters, but after a fleeting contact with one of them, he builds it into a healthy relationship with them both. It does feel that he is trying to replicate the chaos and anarchy that his father brought to many people’s lives. Somehow the presence of the Benzene, the name he gives to the magpie and his partner Yana is a big help with his mental stability.
It is richly layered with the complex relationship that he has with his real father. At one point in the book he is reading through Heathcote’s papers (he never calls him dad) he suddenly realises that they are very alike in the way that they react to situations, some of the things that drive him affected his father in a similar way. He makes the decision to get appointments and get the proper professional help he needs to get better.
Having read Corvus by Esther Woolfson recently, you could see some parallels to her book. In particular the stories about the magpie around the home and its daily habits and rituals and how these intelligent birds are hugely opportunistic. It was interesting to see the way that a wild bird changes and becomes partly tamed whilst living in their home and the way a tiny scrap of the natural world can calm and change a person. Overall it isn’t a bad book, there are some moments of brilliant writing in here, but for me, there was that extra something missing to make this really special.