The expulsion from school of their eldest son shatters the middle-class secutiry of Maggie, a writer, and Charlie, a journalist. Since childhood, Toby has been diffident and self-absorbed, but the threat of drug taking and his refusal (or inability) to discuss his evident unhappiness, disturbs them sufficiently to seek professional help. Veering between private agony and public cheerfulness, Maggie and Charlie struggle to support their son and cope with the reactions- and advice- of friends and relatives. Noted for the acuity with which she reaches into the heart of relationships, Nina Bawden here excels in revealing the painful, intimate truths of a family in crisis. Toby's situation is explored with great tenderness, while Maggie's grief and self-recrimination are rigorously, if compassionately, observed. It is a novel that raises fundamental questions about parents and their children, and offers tentative hope but no tidy solutions.
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(151mm x 200mm x 14mm)
Virago Press Ltd
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
The modest and moderating virtues of Nina Bawden's novels can easily be demonstrated by her earlier titles, The Grain of Truth, or A Little Love, A Little Learning - there are always mothers and husbands and wives and children who are forced to assess and revise their interpersonal sets. The bird charmer of the title is Toby, eldest son of Maggie and Charlie, who is gentle and quiet. . . too quiet now that he's withdrawn altogether (heroin? schizophrenia?). Backtracking (and sometimes sidetracking the reader in a somewhat disruptive fashion) this deals with the effect of Toby's illness on all the members of the family when just "behaving naturally" becomes a forced brightness to overcome awkward silences. While Lucy, Toby's sister, feels altogether excluded and unwanted. But their grandmother Sara (whose earlier loss of a son is remembered as a source of retaliation against rather than concern for her daughter) ultimately shows a native granny-woman sense. This reclaims Toby where parental and professional help fails. . . . Miss Bawden, in her wise attribution of guilt and dispersion of sympathy, accommodates here, adjusts there, and makes a tentative coexistence possible, one that permits a little hope. And, as always, she's an accomplished pleasure to read. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Nina Bawden
Nina Bawden (1925-2012) was one of Britain's best-loved writers for both adults and children. Several of her children's books - Carrie's War, a Phoenix Award winner;The Peppermint Pig, which won the Guardian Fiction Award; and Keeping Henry - have become contemporary classics. She wrote over forty novels, slightly more than half of which are for adults, and she was shortlisted for the 1987 Man Booker Prize for Circles of Deceit. She received the prestigious S T Dupont Golden Pen Award for a lifetime's contribution to literature in 2004, and in 2010 The Birds on the Trees was shortlisted for the Lost Booker of 1970.