How often can you say that a book is like nothing you have ever read before? Well, Birds Art Life Death is exactly that for me.
Every paragraph, every sentence, every word, even, of Kyo Maclear’s memoir felt like it had been carefully, and maybe painstakingly, selected – and the result is…perfection.
The title suggests big themes but, in fact, it is lots of small but sometimes spine-tinglingly significant observations – all linked together by the author’s quest to understand bird watching (at least, that’s how it seemed to me).
From the first page, it made me sit up straighter (I stopped reading it in bed last thing at night) as I already sensed that I did not want to miss a single thing.
It is about birds, of course, but with a more philosophical approach – it’s more a field guide for life than ornithology. Every so often a page features a beautiful illustration, and not just of birds, which fitted with the general quirkiness of this book.
It spoke to me on so many levels; as a writer, as a woman, as a daughter, as a mother and, yes, as someone who likes watching birds.
Here’s the blurb:
One winter, Kyo Maclear became unmoored. Her father had recently fallen ill and she suddenly found herself lost for words. As a writer, she could no longer bring herself to create; her work wasn’t providing the comfort and meaning that it had before.
But then Kyo met a musician who loved birds. The musician felt he could not always cope with the pressures and disappointments of being an artist in a big city. When he watched birds and began to photograph them, his worries dissipated. Intrigued, Kyo found herself following the musician for a year, accompanying him on his birdwatching expeditions; the sounds of birds in the city reminded them both to look outwards at the world.
Intricate and delicate as birdsong, Birds Art Life Death asks how our passions shape and nurture us, and how we might gain perspective, overcome our anxieties and begin to cherish the urban wild spaces where so many of us live.
This is the first time I have read anything by Kyo Maclear, an essayist, novelist and children’s author who lives in Canada, but it won’t be the last.
There were so many almost lightbulb moments that I made use of the Kindle’s highlighter option for the first time. Fearing I might forget, I actually wrote paragraphs on pieces of paper and stuck them to my wall.
After I had finished the book, I was left feeling peaceful, yet inspired, so inspired I could feel it in my chest like a sort of nervous energy.
I can only hope the author’s journey has made her feel the same.
Format: Kindle (published on Friday, Feb 9th).
My rating: Five stars.
With thanks to Fourth Estate (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.