Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In. Magnus Mills” as Want to Read:
A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In. Magnus Mills
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In. Magnus Mills

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  602 ratings  ·  78 reviews
Far away, in the ancient empire of Greater Fallowfields, things are falling apart. The imperial orchestra is presided over by a conductor who has never played a note, the clocks are changed constantly to ensure that the sun always sets at five o' clock, and the Astronomer Royal is only able to use the observatory telescope when he can find a sixpence to put in its slot. Bu ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published August 1st 2012 by Bloomsbury UK (first published September 1st 2011)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

Be the first to ask a question about A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In. Magnus Mills

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  602 ratings  ·  78 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In. Magnus Mills
Ian White
Mar 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely wonderful, among his very best. This is one of his more overtly fantastical novels, in the sense of an outlandish setting, like Three To See The King and Explorers of the New Century, but really making distinctions between degrees of realism is meaningless when it comes to Magnus Mills. Whether it's a broadly realistic mundane subject such as bus drivers or high-tensile fencing, or a fantasy kingdom or talking 'mules', everything is rendered in the same ultra-stylised super-mundane mi ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's nonsense... However this is Magnus Mills so it does all make sense! A tale of "empire", somewhat faded. The Emperor is currently unavailable. The cabinet is holding it all together if it is the time tea is served is your primary concern. And there are apparently "dancing girls" coming. Then change comes and some things are not as they seemed.

I see that Mills is described as Kafkaesque (sp?) and that seems reasonable to me. I'm not aware he writes like anyone else. It really will not suit so
Andy Weston
I do enjoy Magnus Mills, most of all The Restraint of Beasts and All Quiet on the Orient Express. This is more in the mold of The Field of The Cloth of Gold, filled with parody and strangeness.

The story is narrated by an unnamed man who has just been appointed the Principal Composer to the Imperial Court Greater Fallowfields by the strangely absent Emperor, never mind that he has no training in music. He joins the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Postmaster General, the Astronomer General, the
Apr 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, fable
'A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In' is a whimsical and distinctly allegorical fable with an utterly wonderful title. In places, it reminded me of the Gormenghast trilogy, Michael Frayn's 'The Tin Men', and Kafka's 'Amerika', but possessed a gentleness that none of them have. The novel is set in a declining kingdom and narrated by a man who has arbitrarily been chosen as Principle Composer to the Imperial Court. He has no idea of his duties, but attends cabinet meetings and does his bes ...more
Nov 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Another dry, funny, wonky piece from Mills, this time set in a fictional empire, with similarities to Britain (sixpence so, half crowns; stiff with meaningless ritual and pomp), and a missing emporer. This is my fourth Mills and all the others I gave 4stars, but I think this one came across as a little forced, or maybe I'm too used to his style now and the surprises are less. ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-at-library
Clever title and thesis statement (to mock colonialism through a fictionalized Great Britain named Greater Fallowfields), but other than that, there were very few redeeming qualities of this one. The characters are not well developed (which may have been intentional, but it made for an unsatisfying reading experience nonetheless), and setting was almost nonexistent. I was so very disappointed in this book, because it was hailed by critics as a "Kafkaesque fairytale," and that could not be furthe ...more
Chalice An
Liked most things about it but definitely not the ending. What exactly happened? And how would that help anything? Left me rather bemused.
I've read/loved quite a few Magnus Mills titles before, but was a bit disappointed with this one. All very pleasant/intriguing to read, but rather too many competing minor strands (view spoiler) - still 3.5 stars though, but rounding down cos not livin ...more
Nastya Khyzhniak
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer Davies
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I initially began reading this book I could bring myself to read past chapter three. However when I picked up about a year later I found that I couldn't put it down, I have no idea what changed during that time. It is full of extremely dry humour. It revolves around the goings on in the Kingdom of Greater Fallowfields where the Emperor has disappeared and the ministers are content to continue just as before, however a railway tack is being built that could mean the end of everything. The en ...more
Dec 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Standing up in the style of Bruno Tonioli……MAGNUS! You little political tease you… Greater Fallowfields… the decline and fall of the British Empire slowly swallowed surreptitiously by the onward march of Eastern promise despite the anodyne support from the Wild West never looked better! Ooh. The cruel bird looking into the nest at the malnourished chicks, just one thing, you have to focus all the way to the end, keep it going, point the toes and drive. Loved it!
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it
A Cruel Bird Came to the Next and Looked In was a whimsical allegory for the decline of the British Empire and rise of both Communism and the United States. Magnus Mills has a knack for calling out destructive trends in government and culture, and he did not disappoint here. The sheer amount of government bloat and corruption detailed in Cruel Bird was funny, sad, and a little too real, as were the missing emperor and citizens who were so over it they stopped doing their work.
Sep 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone should be made to read Magnus Mills. The man is a genius. And that's all I have to say, really. Do yourself a favour and check out not only this book, but all of his back catalog. ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of, but not quite, like a Phantom Tollbooth for adults.
Aug 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010s
Magnus is on top form with this surreal political tale
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Review dates from 2012.

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In has been hailed as ‘quirky, curious and very funny’, ‘an enchantingly surreal Kafkaesque/philosophical fairy tale’ and ‘a masterpiece’. These accolades are set to attract a wealth of different readers to Booker Prize shortlisted author Magnus Mills’ latest novel.

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In takes place in the Empire of Greater Fallowfields, a kind of ‘other England’, where nothing is quite what it seems. The novel
Make no doubt about it, Magnus Mills can write about the absurdity of authority, society and politics like no other. In this fictional kingdom, the cabinet is made up of people who have no idea about the job they're tasked with – the astronomer royal knows nothing about the stars, our narrator the chief composer/conductor can't write a note of music, and the chancellor has to do research into how regularly they all get their stipendiary sixpence – which to a man they find impossible to spend. No ...more
Mark J Easton
Jan 05, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Unfortunately I found this utterly boring and nonsensical, and it's likely the last Mills I'll read. Although his writing is, as always, clean and simple, the plot–if I can call it that-fails to materialize like a discombobulated sneeze.

As a big time lover of his earlier, non-fantastical fiction, I've concluded his characters and stories become utterly rootless when Mills severs their ties to the prosaic niceties of the real world. Although "A Cruel Bird..." verges on delivering a pseudo-politic
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
I was prepared to plough through this one but I didn't need to. It was a funny, savvy, witty read that was quick and surprisingly easy. At points it balanced the edge of boredom and lengthiness, but overall I enjoyed it. I think you have to be in the right headspace for it; it's really funny when you see the parallels with the British Empire and the stuffiness of politics. Sometimes it was less funny - the only females mentioned in the book were the absent, never specified "dancing girls grown b ...more
Jul 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As ever with Mills (my favourite author) I am still hoping to reach the level of enjoyment I got from The Restraint of Beasts or All Quiet on the Orient Express. This didn't achieve that but I did certainly enjoy it. This is as quietly strange, beautiful, beautifully banal and mysterious as his other works and I love reading each and every one so far. I am not sure when this is set, but the entire narrative is built, once again, on rumour and paranoia. No matter how unusual things get, they rema ...more
Henry Klander
Compared to most of his previous work, I felt kind of dissapointed. As other reviewers have also pointed out, it felt as a promise that was never fulfilled. It looked like, plot-wise speaking, he got in a mess he didn´t know how to get out of, and the last pages were boring af and didn´t lead to nowhere.
I´m a big fan of Mills, and to be honest this is the first book I´ve read from him that was below B grade, so I will keep on looking for some more of his work in the future. He´s brilliantly witt
Christian Schwoerke
This is the least of the Mills books I've read, narrated with the same easy-going naivete that slowly builds to a hard and inescapable conclusion. I found the parable here so cluttered with details that it didn't cleanly strike its target. ...more
This was...odd. I liked the first half and then it felt like the plot - such as it was - just fell apart. Not sure what to think.
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Magnus Mills' books are bonkers but brilliant, and this one is no exception. Highly recommended! ...more
Darrel Hofland
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That was an odd ending.
but I enjoyed the book.
felt like a modern version of Gulliver's Travels.

looking at the progress and oddity of society.

some funny bits in there.
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, own-loanable
I adore Mills' first two books (The Restraint of Beasts and All Quiet on the Orient Express) and now religiously pick up every new book he writes. I have to say that nothing he's written since (including this book) has hit me as hard as those first two, but he is such a distinctive writer that I'm always glad to have the chance to peek into his world. It's a world like ours, but with a fairy tale or fable style, stripped down and with minimal detail. Even the language is simplified, to the point ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Slightly less straightforward Mills book more of his allegorical type. Interestingly set among the elite of a society rather than the workers although the same Kafkaesque feeling of being a pawn in a larger game applies and there are workers involved (particularly the orchestra). As enjoyable as all his books with the absurdity making it a better read than some of his more mundane novels.

Kris McCracken
Set in the Empire of Greater Fallowfields, once a mighty seafaring power, the novel finds the reader encountering a court that nurses memories of imperial glory and sustains only the vaguest awareness of the lands that surround it. A feudal system remains in place and our central character is the unnamed ‘Principal Composer to the Imperial Court’ – who cannot read or play a note – which affords us a privileged insight into the inner workings of the cabinet, which is preoccupied by the prolonged ...more
Meredith M
Jan 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I chose this book perusing the shelves to find an author with the same initials as me as part of a reading challenge. Cool name, great cover.

I found myself struggling to remember who is who with the characters and when I went to look them up to give me reference 4 chapters in, realised I had read a Magnus Mills book before – The Maintenance of Headway. I remembered parts of the story and writing immediately; and the feeling of irritation I had at the ultimate futility behind the story. I recall
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Aquarium
  • Reputations
  • Spilling Clarence
  • Starter for Ten
  • Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, #1)
  • A Journey To The Center Of The Earth
  • The Silence
  • The Fastest Clock in the Universe
  • Fever Pitch
  • Fair Play
  • いつも旅のなか [Itsumo tabi no naka]
  • The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
  • The Thirty Years War
  • News from Nowhere and Other Writings
  • No Humans Involved (Women of the Otherworld, #7)
  • The Unconsoled
  • Broken Greek
  • The Stepford Wives
See similar books…

Related Articles

  Jenny Lawson is the funniest person you know. And if you don’t know her, just read one of her books and she becomes the funniest person you...
87 likes · 13 comments
“'s customary in the empire to grant positions of high office to people who know little about their subject; in my case the custom is being maintained to the letter.” 0 likes
More quotes…