The Essential Bird by Carmel Bird

I loved this collection of short stories, loved it.  I’m reading my way through Carmel Bird’s work, enjoying every page.

The Essential Bird by Carmel Bird

‘When I read fiction I want the words to take my spirit into the places beneath the surface of the everyday world.’

The above quote is from Carmel Bird’s ‘A Taste of Earth’, one of the short stories in this collection really caught my attention.  Mostly, this is what I want from fiction as well.  Maybe not always beneath the surface of the everyday world, but certainly at some remove from the everyday world.   But ‘A Taste of Earth’ held my attention for other reasons.  There’s a point where Carmel Bird’s story and my life intersect.  Carmel Bird writes: ‘I remember when my mother used to take me to the cemetery.’   Me too.  Carr Villa Cemetery is about a five minute walk away from my childhood home in Launceston, and while the trams were long gone by the time I accompanied my mother to Carr Villa, the hedges of rosemary and the pine trees still remain.  Now I visit my mother’s grave there whenever I return to Tasmania.

There are forty-five short stories in this collection, ranging from three to over forty pages.   This includes ‘The Common Rat’ – a story in seven parts.  The stories I am particularly drawn to are the ones that refer to the Launceston I grew up in, such as ‘Major Butler’s Kidneys’:

‘I would spend hours in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, breathing in, imbibing the old things there, the mummies, the bark canoes, the furniture, paintings, jewellery, costumes of colonists, the Chinese Joss House, the stuffed animals, the musical boxes, the grandfather clocks.  It was a silent place, eerie, an old-fashioned museum.’

The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery near Royal Park (there’s now an additional location in Invermay) was an old-fashioned museum.  It still contains the Chinese Joss House, but many of the other items are now at Invermay.  Ms Bird’s storytelling draws me into her fiction, her sense of place (especially for the stories set in Tasmania) holds me there.

This is an eclectic collection.  One of my favourite stories is ‘Affair at the Ritz’, which opens with: ‘Speaking as a dying cockroach, I tell you it is nice to have spiders and insects like you to talk to.’

And ‘Made Glorious Summer’ is unforgettable: a son murders his parents after they refused to lend him more money.

This is a collection of short stories that I know I will be revisiting.  Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith