Wednesday, 25 July 2018

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

Some books are easy to sum up. Almost as soon as I have finished reading them I know what I want to say about them and how they made me feel. I crack a review out, press 'publish' and pass the book along to my sister or the charity shop.

A Thousand Paper Birds is not a book like that.

I finished this book several weeks ago and it has taken me a while to process what I read. Don't get me wrong, I adored the book and would recommend it to everyone. It is a contender for Book of the Year, if I was awarding such an honour. So why couldn't I write a review straight after I finished it?

This is a complex book, tackling serious and important issues. It deals with love and grief, longing and loss, relationships and friendships. All very 'big' topics and ones that always make me think when they are the bedrock of a book. So I was very aware that I needed to take these themes seriously when I wrote my review.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot of the book because there was a moment when I was reading when everything shifted for me, literally took my breath away and left me staring at the page in disbelief. I don't want to spoil that moment for anyone else so l won't give away any secrets or important moments.

The novel centres around five characters and how their lives intertwine, sharing love and loss and struggling to understand each other and themselves. Jonah is a widower who is trying to piece together his life again after the loss of his beloved wife, Audrey. Audrey's story is told in a parallel narrative in the past. She is the link between all the other characters, touching their lives and changing them. Chloe is an artist who works in paper. She starts a relationship with Jonah that isn't easy for either of them. Harry and Milly live within Kew Gardens, a young girl constantly searching for her place in the world and a gardener whose whole world revolves around the plants he tends.
The way Tor Udall weaves the narrative through Kew Gardens and binds the characters together is wonderful. I have never visited Kew Gardens but I was transported there by the beautiful descriptions. Here is a small example: 

'Half-hidden among the cool green of the reeds, a heron stands on one leg, watching the sun glint on the water. Its wings are the colour of a bruise as it waits silently, like an old man wearing a coat of straggly feathers. There are four wooded islands on the lake, undisturbed by humans; stamping grounds for coots, moorhens and Canada geese. The air thrums with birdsong and damselflies darting between the campion and blanketweed.'

Can't you just picture the scene? I'm transported to the side of the lake, sitting and enjoying the tranquillity.

This book is a marvel, so beautiful, so sad and heart-breaking. The love between Jonah and Audrey shines through, his pain is almost too much to bear when reading yet there is hope for the future too. I was in tears at the end but it is a satisfying ending, everything left in a way that felt right.

I have not moved this book on. I know I will return to it again and read with tears in my eyes. This is a book that I will cherish, that I will re-read, a book I wish I had written. And that seems to me to be the highest compliment I can pay to any author.

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