This is such a gorgeous book I have read the author s previous debut novel Everyman s Scientific Rules for Living which is an all time favourite and I am wondering as to why I have not picked this up before now It is a very sensual and primal read detailing the beauty and harsh nature of farm life I especially liked the sections on bird behaviour A fine start to my new reading year. Ho hum For a book about birds, this one never got off the ground Tiffany has an interesting writing style, combining dry technical passages about dairy farming there are a lot of words you won t even know what they mean not that it really matters , close and quite interesting observations of Australian bird life and the often brutal ends that birds meet, with snatches of narrative by various members of two neighboring Australian rural households in the 50s Be warned, for those of you with delicate sensibilities, Tiffany writes very graphically about sex, bringing the same dry observational tone to descriptions of human sexuality as she does to observing bird species or dairy cow behavior As befits a book centered on dairy farming, there s an awful lot of detailed talk about breasts But about everything else too Which is not to say that it s an erotic book whether it s the clinical tone or the highly episodic nature of Tiffany s narrative, you never feel for the protagonists than a slight sadness and an ungratified curiousity to get pieces of the puzzle, to understand who they really are and why we re reading a book about them.Ultimately, despite some early promise, the book is entirely fragmentary and episodic We never get than glances of what s going on with the various characters, and while the allusions and analogies to family life in the natural world are interesting, they can t substitute for plot or character development The book ends abruptly with a finally denouement that, while a long time coming, still comes out of nowhere as far as the plot goes Doesn t seem fully thought through or finished. On The Outskirts Of An Australian Country Town In The S, A Lonely Farmer Trains His Binoculars On A Family Of Kookaburras That Roost In A Tree Near His House Harry Observes The Kookaburras Through A Year Of Feast, Famine, Birth, Death, War, Romance And Song As Harry Watches The Birds, His Next Door Neighbour Has Her Own Set Of Binoculars Trained On Him Ardent, Hard Working Betty Has Escaped To The Country With Her Two Fatherless Children Betty Is Pleased That Her Son, Michael, Wants To Spend Time With The Gentle Farmer Next Door But When Harry Decides To Teach Michael About The Opposite Sex, Perilous Boundaries Are Crossed Mateship With Birds Is A Novel About Young Lust And Mature Love It Is A Hymn To The Rhythm Of Country Life To Vicious Birds, Virginal Cows, Adored Dogs And Ill Used Sheep On One Small Farm In A Vast, Ancient Landscape, A Collection Of Misfits Question The Nature Of What A Family Can Be This is a book about sex Sex between humans, sex between other animals, and in at least one instance, sex between a human and another animal Although extremely explicit, even when describing the various casual perversions of rural life, the book is never crude for the sake of being crude or for cheap shock value Set in rural Victoria of the 1950s, the central characters are Harry, a dairy farmer, and Betty, a nurse and single mother of two children who has moved in next door to him The plot is very simple and linear, like a novella, and Tiffany doesn t develop any subplots or extra threads to her story It details Harry s and Betty s slow courtship and juxtaposes it with Harry s observations of local birdlife I was unsatisfied by this I expected that the juxtaposition would reveal something, in parallel or anti parallel to the main story In the end, I thought that while the bird observations certainly helped develop Harry s character, they served no other purpose, and therefore that the length of text devoted to them was disproportionate.I found that I could easily visualise Harry, Betty, and the world they inhabited Harry appears at first to be a stereotypical stoic, taciturn Australian country man However, in his own reflections and ruminations on his own discovery of sex as a teenager and in particular, view spoiler his relating of those experiences in a series of letters to Betty s son, Michael hide spoiler Although I possess a tome giving name to the copious array of birds that populate my island, I am no amateur ornithologist Naturally the common species that abound around my riverside abode black swan, kookaburra, pelican, blue wren as well as the uninspiring starling and sparrow are known, as is the majestic sea eagle that occasionally soars down the valley The rich variety of water fowl present on the Derwent elude recognition though, as are a mystery to me the brightly plumed standouts that flit and trill in the nearby shrubbery The shenanigans of the turbo chooks on the front lawn are a constant delight, but I am no twitcher, as is Harry, the character central to Tiffany s rich new novel, Mateship With Birds He knows the nomenclature of all his feathered friends, can identify calls and keeps a journal of the rituals of a kookaburra family living on his dairy farm He is also very friendly with his cows.I seem immersed in the 1950s these days My previous read was set in that period in the UK, and I am currently addicted to Mad Men This work, in contrast, has an Aussie setting, and one can practically smell the Brylcream emanating from the pages such is the authority with which the author captures the times.Harry, widower, lives in close proximity to Betty, single mum A lustful, unconsummated intimacy exists between the two friends, and Harry is father figure to Betty s daughter Little Hazel, and particularly her son, teenage Michael At first the book is a series of vignettes outlining bucolic daily happenings and personal histories, taking its time to settle into a linear narrative We have Harry s journal, Hazel s school nature diary and an account of a neighbour s unnatural practices providing some hilarity to otherwise somber events It is when Harry takes it into his head to provide a written road map to the enchantments of the female sexual organs with instruction how to titillate them for Michael s elucidation that the novel takes off This idiosyncratic guide is surprisingly original in its approach to sexual functionality, but serves to fray the settled relationship between the two adult protagonists Then comes the unexpected, to this reader, climax puns intended that is the final joy of the work.Tiffany received hearty praise and some gongs for her first effort, Rules for Scientific Living , and this sopho work does no harm to her career prospects And, for someone like me who remembers the fifties, if not like yesterday, but fairly well, then Mateship with Birds brings back a time when life was bland, perhaps less fraught, but when reticence and propriety loomed larger with those natural urges still difficult to ignore. When a book comes along about cows, dairy farming, frustrated desire and falling in love, I have to say I m reading up a storm The cows Enid, Fatty, Babs, Big Joyce, Wee Joyce, Stumbles and the rest and the pasture, figure as intensely as the birds that Harry writes about , and I find myself longing to subscribe to the Victorian Dairy Farmer s Weeklylife on a farm in the 50 s was about applied science, but no amount of science can help Harry in the seduction of his hard working and single neighbour Betty He knows exactly what he must do, but in what order And when And how will he know if she understands his intent Tiffany manages to capture the details of missed opportunities, both for birds and for people, and the frailties exposed when they are both driven by the urge to mate It will not be denied in the end, but the journey is heartbreaking, sometimes funny, tentative, and finally well, you ll just have to read it to find out I didn t actually set out to read this book I merely tried to use it as we road tested our new eBook service It took some time to cooperate, but finally I had the text in front of me, and off I went I had heard a lot about this novel, as a very visceral depiction of Australian country life And it is I didn t really want to know about the personal habits of lonely old cockies, and yet it had its place in the narrative Country life is not easy, nor yet idyllic but it has its joys There is a naivete about human relations that life in the city tends to eradicate simply through density of population there is so much to see and experience in suburban situations, that you can t remain oblivious to human interactions Rural life has its carefully maintained facades of decorum, but it rubs along with all sorts of creatures, flighted and furred, feline, ovine, bovine and canine with a resignation to and observance of the beauty and destruction in the circle of life And that s what struck me about Mateship with birds There is a lyricism to the desciptions of Harry s rituals in milking his herd, his observations of the local kookaburra family and their annual breeding cycle It is at once pragmatic in death and the mechanics of procreation, and yet with a tinge of romanticism in the description of thrushes visiting the classroom There is a ruddy, joyful revelling in the knowledge that if you can feel all these things, then you still must be alive Even Betty, with her carefully, yet vaguely constructed appearance, tending her old men at the local nursing home, pretending to be a visiting wife in her lunch hour Pathos and pragmatism, humour and celebration Vital Ended up quite enjoying it Not a self conscious book and doesn t try too hard all of which made it a joy to read. The title of this book has double meanings for an Australian reader both mateship and birds have dual meanings, so I had an idea of what the content would be before I started it I wasn t wrong Harry s attempts to educate Michael in the birds and the bees were very clumsy and amusing although Michael s mother wasn t amused.I loved how this book really captured country life in Australia and that it mentioned towns that I m familiar with The journal that Harry keeps about the kookaburra family was gorgeous I loved reading about them.I thought this was quite a cleverly written book and I enjoyed the different anecdotes throughout it about both the humans and the animals The only criticism I have about it was that I thought in a couple of places it was just overly crass for no apparent reason I also found one scene involving a shooting very unpleasant Although I would have ideally given this book a 3.5 rating, I ve given it 4 rather than 3 simply because I loved the way the author captured that country town feel and I liked Harry s kookaburra journal, which was almost written as poetry.Lastly, as I won this book on First Reads, I would like to thank Hayley for the chance to read and review this book. Mateship with Birds is, primarily, about Harry, a divorced dairy farmer outside the small regional town of Cohuna, Victoria in the 1950s He s a quiet, observant man who takes holistic care of his cows which have names like Big Joyce, Pineapple, Enid and Linga Longa Wattle Flower while imagining himself as their manager and they, star performers on the road He keeps a notebook in the shed in which he records, in verse form, the goings ons of the resident kookaburra family Mum, Dad, Tiny and Club Toe His nearest neighbours are Trevor Mues and single mother of two, Betty Trevor is useful to call upon for help when needed, though his personal habits and sexual interests are disgusting Betty, though, he is both close yet distant with Harry helps fill the role of missing husband when something needs fixing or taking care of around the house she rents, but his attraction to her goes unspoken and, seemingly, unrequited, while Betty, in turn, daydreams about Harry while working at the aged care home in town.Harry also tries to fill the role of father to Betty s oldest, Michael, in providing sex education for the boy after he walks in on Michael masturbating over a copy of Woman and Home He does this through letters in which he details his own experiences and provides his own insights which are quite endearing, really But his comfortable yet stationary relationship with Betty is ruined when she finds the letters.The character of Harry is a superb one Having grown up in the country surrounded by farmers including my father and grandfather I am familiar with their distinctive, slow moving, laconic style of being present In fact, I would say it feels like home to me The image of two men standing side by side, dressed in soft, well worn and often stained but clean cotton trousers navy blue or dark green , the obligatory shirt, sometimes with worn, holey jumper on top, hefty boots and terry towelling bucket hat They d stand beside each other rather than facing, arms crossed or hands in pockets or leaning over a gate, chatting philosophising There s something gentle and tender in the lack of urgency, the low rumbling tones, that I miss and it s this something for which I m so nostalgic that Tiffany captures in her portrayal of Harry On top of that quality, Harry really is a lovely sort, quietly helping out, secretly decorating Little Hazel s bedroom to make it look like winter, using the stuffing from his pillow for snow.They walk for a while along the edge of the bank, Harry stopping now and then to measure the channel depth and test the flow of water around his outstretched fingers The hot edge has gone off the afternoon There doesn t seem much need for talk The bank is narrow so they walk slowly, in single file Betty is in the lead Harry hangs far enough back so he can watch the way she moves He likes her plump forearms, the cardigan pushed up around them the gilt band of her watch digging into her wrist He likes the sound of her clothes moving around her middle When she turns to speak to him he notices her softening jaw and her mouth the lipstick on her front teeth He s been watching all of this, over the years, watching her body age and temper p.22 The lines are blurred between human and animal Harry anthropomorphises the birds that he watches, the cows that he tends, constructing a language of sex and sensation that binds humans and animals together in a warmly organic world of agriculture I don t know how else to describe it except to connect those words together Tiffany s own experiences working in the agricultural field show the book is speckled with interesting glimpses into the details of caring for animals and running a farm, as well as observations about birds all of which, again, can be seen as a metaphor for humans.A quality milker demonstrates a calm authority He milks the herd fast and dry The atmosphere is of relaxed arousal p.129 The descriptions of sexual activity in all its forms are couched in this language of farming, which we tend to forget is all about reproduction and nurture Tiffany, here, has also created an atmosphere of relaxed arousal The ease with which the lines can become blurred is captured in the shocking moment of discovering that Mues has crossed the line and doesn t even see a problem with it This, too, taps into that essential loneliness and isolation which can be the farmer s lot, even with close neighbours and daily contact Harry is a deeply sympathetic character, a man of integrity, patience and humility with that hint of childlike innocence that so many farmers have, here in Tasmania I m not so familiar with Victorian farmers, but if Mateship with Birds is anything to go by, it seems to be much the same This quality is amplified by the inclusion of glimpses into Harry as a little boy the time he stayed at his aunt s house and took down the cuckoo clock, only to feel complete disappointment at the trick of it and to be punished for breaking it Betty, too, has a past tinged with sadness and instances of love missing their mark There s an edge to Tiffany s writing that add tension hard to grasp but present nonetheless and the unabashed descriptions of sex and sexual activity actually had the power to discomfit me a reflection of my cultural context, I think, than any real kind of prudery I m quite curious about this Her descriptions of the landscape are simple yet beautiful one of my favourites The eucalypts thin leaves are painterly on the background of mauve sky like black lace on pale skin p.125 Such descriptions are used sparsely but create vivid images in the mind s eye There s an element of social realism to Mateship with Birds that made the characters feel incredibly real to me it s in the skilful simplicity of Tiffany s sentences, her artful way of capturing a mood, a person, a moment of nerves or a hesitation in the doorway The birds, too, are characters in their own right, as captured by Harry s writings and Little Hazel s nature diary And it is a bird the winking owl on the washing line that helps bridge the sudden gap between Harry and Betty and repairs what has been damaged Subtly colouring everything is this touch of nostalgia, a faint layer of Australiana that isn t really celebrated or indulged, it just is part of the setting.Tiffany s second novel is fairly short, at just over two hundred pages, but packs a lot The lives of Harry and Betty and everyone else are interconnected by birds, birds being watched, birds being accidentally killed, birds being befriended and tended Mateship with Birds is about life, the ugly, sometimes bloody parts of it, the sex and sweat and tears of it, and the love and laughter and dying The blurb ends with a wonderfully tidy sentence On one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, a collection of misfits question the nature of what a family can be This, too, is an essential part of the novel, though not the one that stuck with me the most But in Harry s attempts at being a father for someone else s children, the tender innocence at the core of life is presented as something both humbling, and fraught.Highly recommended, an excellent read. Tiffany managed to create an interesting mix of characters and raised some interesting ideas, however this book to me felt like a jumbled together collection of short stories that reached no real engrossing conclusion The tension in the novel was commendable, however the overall plot seemed lacking and not once did I feel engrossed or connected to any one of the characters The themes of sexual maturity and immaturity weave throughout the book constantly, mostly in a disturbing fashion Personally, I found Harry s sexual maturity thoroughly childlike and without any passion His final quote looks like rain tomorrow really cements the idea that his character is a farmer lacking any basic emotional or passionate feelings Perhaps this is commenting on a generalization among rural men in their inability to show their true feelings However, this is an easy stereotype but Harry s character allows for other assumptions..Wouldn t read it again, nor recommend it.
Carrie Tiffany was born in 1965 in Halifax, West Yorkshire and migrated to Australia with her family in the early 1970s She grew up in Perth, Western Australia In her early twenties she worked as a park ranger in Central Australia.She moved to Melbourne in 1988 where she began work as a writer, focusing mainly on agriculture Tiffany took up writing fiction and completed a creative writing cours
- 208 pages
- Mateship With Birds
- Carrie Tiffany
- 15 August 2017 Carrie Tiffany