The Bird Room

The Bird Room
Chris Killen
(Canongate, 2009)

Don’t you hate blurbs that deceive you? The Bird Room promises to be “a candid, funny and joyous portrait of love and desire in the modern age”. Only one of those adjectives actually applies, and then only if you assume the candid refers to the sex and don’t expect it to equally apply to love and desire (neither of which are the same thing).

The prose limps along, never enabling you to engage with the characters or care about them. Alice, the “smart, sexy” love interest, doesn’t get to narrate and her words and actions, as relayed by Will (the putative protagonist), make her seem as broken and emotionally blank as the other characters. There’s certainly no joy in the book, and pitifully few laughs.

You can see the glimmerings of themes, lurking behind the facile plot. William, Will’s friend, is his more cool double: the one who left Manchester for Glasgow, the one who travels, the one who gets girls despite not being a looker, the one who isn’t paranoid about things. Clair puts on the identity of Helen so she can be all the things she isn’t: she leaves home (although not Manchester); she wears contacts; she leaves her old job to be an actress in online porn.

The problem is any potential themes are drowned by a deadened prose style and minimalist plot. It feels like reading a book where someone has mistaken ‘graphic’ for ‘adult’, and thus splattered references to sex on every page. To be honest, I read far better sex scenes in fanfic, and at least there the characters tend to be engaging and have a complexity of emotions. Each character in The Bird Room has one state: paranoid; shallow; narcissistic; confused.

It’s taken me a week to read it. Not because it’s long (a mere 200 or so pages in B-format paperback) but because after an initial session with it, I put off reading the rest of it until this morning.

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