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April 2, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books | [ssba]

Review – A Cruel Bird Came To The Nest And Looked In

Bus driver turned cult novelist Magnus Mills (The Scheme for Full Employment, All Quiet on the Orient Express) has just released his latest work, the quirky and perceptive A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In. Set in a faraway empire, it reads like a fairy tale with its childish, rhythmic prose and charming images–a tremendous orchestra in a theatre like a yellow cake, and bumbling characters with names like Whimbrel and Garganey.

Nevertheless, a messy array of political satire lies just beneath the innocent surface, where the inept bureaucracy of the Empire struggles to find the missing Emperor and save their homeland from invasion and decay. The prominent officials succeed less due to their intelligence or ability, and more due to their acting skill as they endeavour to hold up the illusion that everything is okay. Along the way they encounter pervasive frustrations: the royal telescope won’t function without a sixpence in the slot, the clocks must all be set two minutes forward every day, and important letters are continually lost in the post. The reader quickly begins to experience discomfort as the nonsensical rules of this dream world intensify and become increasingly familiar.

As danger looms from over land and sea, the recurring phrase, “things must be done properly or not at all” quickly turns sinister, echoing our own frustrations with procedures and protocols. The most disconcerting thing about Cruel Bird is its tendency to resemble real life, no matter how surreal and fantastical it becomes. Mills’ parody of modern politics is both easy to read and deeply funny, while subtly giving insight into our nonsensical lives.


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