2012 Orange Prize

Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany

Mateship with Birds Longlisted for 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize

Five words from the blurb: farmer, observes, birds, teach, sex

Mateship with Birds was one of the books on the 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize Longlist that didn’t really appeal to me. Luckily the writing quality was fantastic; it’s just a shame that the plot was so simple.

Mateship with Birds is set on an Australian farm. Harry is a lonely farmer who decides to teach his neighbour’s son about sex. Very little happens in this book, but the writing is vivid and the animals on the farm are particularly well described:

The wings of a moth opening and closing over the cape weed catch the sun in a silvery flash. One grazing cow startles forwards slightly, her hind legs make clumsy haste, almost overtaking the rest of her. She settles quickly enough but the plug of fear is transferred to her sister, and then the next cow and the next, until the whole herd has felt a diluted fraction of her fear. The herd, together in the paddock, is a sponge. Feelings run like liquid in the irregular, porous spaces between each animal.

If there were awards for the best sex in literature then this book would be a strong contender. The tenderness of the writing was beautiful and the relationship between each character felt realistic. I felt a little distanced from events, but this style worked well given the sexual nature of the text. I should warn sensitive readers that this book contains scenes of slaughter, beastiality, and lots of sexual content.

My main problem with the book was that the plot was too simple. It was so short I read it in a single sitting, but it lacked the power and insight required to make such a quick read memorable. The individual passages were fantastic, but they failed to come together to form a compelling novel.

Overall the writing quality was enough to justify a place on the WFP longlist, but I can’t see it progressing any further.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 …if writing style can be true to the Australian agricultural  landscape, this is it – sparse, brittle, obvious. Books are My Favourite and Best

…it felt as though there were the beginnings of a great novel here, but one that isn’t given space to develop. Crikey

Carrie’s writing style is unique, and incredibly readable. That Book You Like



13 replies on “Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany”

I was going to say that most of the time when you mention that the writing is beautiful, but the book was a little slow or had too little plot for your taste, there is a big chance that I’d actually love it. But then you mentioned the sexual nature of the book and this makes me hesitant if it’s for me, really.

Iris, I think you’d love the writing in this book, but if you are wary of sexual content then you should stay away from this one – it certainly pushes the boundaries, even if it does do it in a sensitive way.

This one appealed to me the least, and it was the only title I wasn’t able to track down through my libraries. I’ll likely not seek it out further unless it makes the short list. Although knowing the writing is so strong leaves me curious about what this author will do next. She might be one to watch.

Carrie, I’ve heard that her first book is better than this, but her writing is good enough for me to want to watch out for her future books. Shame this one didn’t quite work for me. .

I’m glad you enjoyed this one, Jackie, or at least enjoyed it more than I did. I certainly agree with you that much of the writing is very good (I especially liked the stuff about the family of kookaburras), but while the excess of sex didn’t bother me in itself, something about the book (and the way she portrays her male characters) still disturbed me, but not in the thought-provoking way that ‘Lamb’ did.
I can see why it made the longlist but it just wasn’t for me.

David, Yes, I liked the kookaburras too. I think you are right about the thought provoking aspect of this book – that is what I felt was lacking. It didn’t stop to make to think about anything in particular and I didn’t see what it set out to achieve. The content seemed to set out to be shocking, but that shock didn’t serve any purpose. Perhaps I just missed it? I agree – Lamb at least raised some interesting questions.

I’m usually okay with sex in books, but like Alex I think I’d have to pass on this one. The writing is lovely, but I can see how it would be tough to get through it with just that.

Carrie Tiffany’s MATESHIP WITH BIRDS is extraordinary writing, and one of my favourite books ever. I discovered it last year while travelling in Australia, and am desperate for it to be available to buy in Canada as I want to teach the novel. The way Tiffany uses language is to die for. Nobody is watching you read. Don’t be timid: just read this luscious prose by an amazing writer.

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