Rebecca's Reviews > Featherhood

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour
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it was amazing
bookshelves: birds, 2020-second-half, family-memoirs, parenting-or-not, public-library, pets, addiction, best-of-2020

I’m not sure why I avoided this last year; I seem to have talked myself into thinking it would pale in comparison to H Is for Hawk, but in fact it more than earns a place next to Macdonald’s on the shelf. While both books are, broadly, bereavement memoirs that happen to incorporate bird-keeping, the family dynamics involved are very different. Whereas Macdonald’s father was beloved and much missed, Gilmour had decidedly mixed feelings. He was an afterthought: the disdained evidence of a brief dalliance his father, poet Heathcote Williams, had with a young woman (Polly Samson, a novelist) he met through his publisher after he had already had the requisite two children.

As an aimless twentysomething with a history of drug use and jail time (after a tuition fees protest gone wrong), Gilmour tried to rekindle a relationship with his unreliable father at the same time that he and his wife were pondering starting a family of their own. While all of this was happening, he was also raising Benzene, a magpie that fell out of the nest and ended up in his care. This was not a usual or even desirable situation, as Gilmour is at pains to emphasize in a note at the end of the book (helpless baby birds should generally be left alone, or at most returned to the nearest tree or hedge for the parent bird to find).

Nonetheless, the experience taught him lessons of responsibility and compassionate care for another creature. Benzene is a delightful character in her own right, especially after Gilmour’s grandmother taught her to talk. Alas, she didn’t manage the whole of “F*** Trump,” just repeated “Trump!” but her other key phrase was “Come on,” which served as a sort of invitation to Gilmour to move forward with courage. Heathcote, too, had a pet corvid – in his case, a jackdaw – who appeared in his poetry. Gilmour makes such elegant use of all these connections and metaphors, heading the memoir’s sections with names of feather types. He’s so good at scenes, dialogue and emotion – a natural writer, one I hope we’ll see on the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist and hear much more from in the future. I think he’d write a fine novel, if he chooses to follow in his mother’s footsteps.

Another readalike: Blood Ties by Ben Crane
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Reading Progress

August 25, 2020 – Shelved
August 25, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
August 25, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
August 25, 2020 – Shelved as: birds
September 16, 2020 – Shelved as: 2020-second-half
September 16, 2020 – Shelved as: family-memoirs
September 16, 2020 – Shelved as: parenting-or-not
March 4, 2021 – Shelved as: public-library
March 4, 2021 – Shelved as: pets
April 2, 2021 – Started Reading
April 25, 2021 – Shelved as: addiction
May 24, 2021 – Shelved as: best-of-2020
May 24, 2021 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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Paul Five stars! Blimey!! I thought it was a bit overrated

Rebecca Paul wrote: "Five stars! Blimey!! I thought it was a bit overrated"

Our taste overlaps on a few topics/authors, but not that often -- I think we might be looking for different things in books. I found the writing exquisite, and he carried his themes and metaphors through the book perfectly.

Paul I think that you are right that we get different things from the same book. As a family memoir, I thought that he had managed to get across the difficultly he had in engaging with his real dad and some of the reconciliation that happened towards the end.

message 4: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Lieberman I'm reading Macdonald's Vesper Flights right now, loving it!

Rebecca Lisa wrote: "I'm reading Macdonald's Vesper Flights right now, loving it!"

Ooh, wonderful -- that was my NF book of last year.

Paul I have a copy that I must get round to reading

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