The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley

Late last year  I read The Burying Beetle, and I fell in love with twelve year-old Gussie. I am so glad that it was the first of the series because I really wasn’t ready to let Gussie go.

Gussie is so alive, but unlike most twelve year-olds, she has had to consider her own mortality.

Death: I know, or I think I know that death will only be nothingness, but I don’t want oblivion yet.  I want to smell honeysuckle in the dark, I want to hear my cat greet me with her special purring.  I want to smell old books.”

Gussie has a serious heart condition and her life expectancy isn’t great. A heart and lung transplant would give her a little more time and maybe  a little more freedom, if only a match could be found.

The Bower Bird picks up the threads of Gussie’s life just a few weeks after The Burying Beetle ended, and moves things gently forward.

She and her mother have moved to a new home in St Ives. Gussie is trying to find out more about her father’s family connections in the town, while observing her mother’s new relationship and still pondering her parent’s failed relationship. She has her own relationship to ponder too, with her closest friend who now has a girlfriend to consider too.

Those are the broad strokes, but the joy of this book is in the detail.  Gussie is  intrigued by the world around her, interested in everything and everyone.

The Bower Book is a wonderful celebration of life, seen through the eyes of a child who understands just how precious those things are.

A child who loves books – from Winnie the Pooh to Katharine Mansfield – and loves the library.

Desert Island Discs is on the radio. I think there should be a Desert Island Books where the guest tells us which books he/she would take.

I have started by list of favourite books for when I am famous and invited on the programme.

Jennie, by Paul Gallico
The House at Pooh Corner by A A Milne
The Collected Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield
White Fang by Jack London
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
Fabre’s Book of Insects
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

That’s nine and I’ll only be allowed to take eight, so I’ll have to think about which one I could live without…”

(What a great list – though  I’m not sure that I could have appreciated Middlemarch at twelve  – I’m thinking about my desert island books now.)

A child who loves nature and the world around her. Some people might just see seagulls, but Gussie sees their characters and watches their lives unfold. A mother watching her child as it finds its feet and learns to fly, squawking horribly if her child is threatening. And a child finding its place in the world.

“Our adolescent gull is still wheezing and jumping up and down on the roof flapping his speckled wings. He wanders all over the roof, spends most of the time on his own, though one parent perches on the chimney pot watching over him while the other parent is fishing for his supper, or is out having a good time. I feel like that young gull: songless and ugly, unable to fly; totally dependent on my parent.”

(There are many moments like that. Wonderful observations beautifully expressed mixed with very real emotions.)

A child who is pleased to meet people, eager to ask questions, observant, and thoughtful.

And she catches Cornwall perfectly.

“Mornings in mid September smell fresher than August, and there’s lots of swirling white mist over the water, hiding the dunes and the estuary. But the air is still and somehow you know that it’s going to be sunny later. The heavy band of mist is chrome and silver; the clouds are the colour of lavender leaves and steamed up mirrors. The sea is hammered pewter and the low waves are mercury creeping up the beach. Where the sun breaks through, it explodes on the water in a firework burst of sparkling stars. On the other side of the bay, battleship clouds float above the dunes and hills of Gwithian and Godrevy. September is like a wonderful monochrome photograph or the opening credits of an obscure French movie. Like the ones Daddy used to take me too.”

So many details, all perfectly caught, with every observation, every emotion pitch perfect, to build a picture of a lovely, complex child and her world.

A child so determined to live, but so often not being able to go as quickly as she wanted, having to pause for breath, having to be careful. How I felt for her.

In the end it seemed that the match Gussie and her mother had hoped for had finally been found. I so hope that it has, and I shall be breaking all of my own rules about spreading out great series and bringing the next book home as soon as I possibly can.

4 responses

  1. It’s so heartwarming to read such a considered review of Ann’s wonderful Gussie novels. You won’t be disappointed by the others. And Koh Tabu, Ann’s novel about a group of girls trapped on a tropical island, is such a brilliant read too. I’m biassed – I’m Ann’s Literary Agent! – but I’m very proud of her.

    • It’s wonderful that you can write so warmly of an author. You have good reason to be proud and I shall definitely be seeking ot all of Ann’s work in time.

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