‘An English Guide to Birdwatching is a daring novel, both wickedly playful and deeply touching.’ — Alison Moore
Silas and Ethel Woodlock have retired from the business of undertaking to spend their twilight years by the sea but things are not as easy as they’d hoped, and it’s all to do with herring gulls. Stephen Osmer and Lily Lynch are a glamorous young couple on the London literary scene. While Lily pursues an ambitious public art project about ‘cinematic intentions’, we encounter Osmer’s brilliance as an arts journalist, writing a dangerously provocative essay about social justice and the banking crisis, as well as a diatribe about two people called Nicholas Royle, one a novelist, the other a literary critic.
Nicholas Royle’s magnificent new novel combines a page-turning story about literary theft, adultery and ambition with a poetic and moving investigation into our relationship to birds and to the environment. It is exquisitely inventive and very funny, juxtaposing the stuff of scandalous gossip with scathing reports of how the world has gone to hell in a handcart. Playfully commenting on the main story are 17 interlinked ‘Hides’. Beautifully illustrated by artist Natalia Gasson, these short texts — primarily about birds, ornithology and films (including Hitchcock’s) — give us a different view of the themes that fly out of the novel: the messy business of being human, the fragility of the physical world we inhabit and the nature of writing itself.
Compelling, audacious and dazzling in its linguistic playfulness and formal invention, An English Guide to Birdwatching explores the fertile hinterland between fact and fiction. In its focus on birds, climate change, the banking crisis, social justice and human migration, it is intensely relevant to wider political concerns; in its mischievous wit and wordplay, and post-modern (or ‘post-fiction’) sensibility, it pushes the boundaries of what a novel might be.