In the small country town of Cohuna in long-ago , when the evening meal was ''tea'' and the lunch meal was ''dinner'', Harry, a dairy farmer, lives according to the demands of his calling.
Up with the chooks, to bed with the birds. He tends his beautiful, stupid cows, is uplifted by the rich bird-life around him, takes his cranky motorbike it's a Waratah out for a weekly clean-out and thinks quite a bit about the sex he isn't having. Renting the farmhouse next door is Betty, a woman bringing up two children whom the townspeople call ''Betty's bastards''.
Betty goes to work in the aged-care centre in town each day, attending her charges with thought and respect, worrying about her children and sighing over the sex she isn't having. Her longest sighs are over the sex she isn't having with Harry.
- Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany – review by Janine Burke;
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- Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany - review.
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Harry is the nearest thing Betty's children have ever had to a father and her son Michael has a particular friendship with him; mateship, perhaps? Michael emulates Harry and they work about the farm together, attend to the birds and animals and get along in that modest, unspoken way that, in , was the way it was.
Harry was once married to a woman who ran away with another birdwatching enthusiast. As he does the milking and watches the birds close at hand, particularly a knockabout family of kookaburras, he ponders what went wrong between himself and his young wife. Knowing what he now knows, he understands that being as eager as one is ignorant can be catastrophic. In sex, ignorance is anything but bliss. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive new posts by email.
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Highly recommended, an excellent read.
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.
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: A quality milker demonstrates a calm authority. He milks the herd fast and dry. The atmosphere is of relaxed arousal. 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.
Seductive lessons in a pastoral landscape
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 more 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: There's an element of social realism to Mateship with Birds that made the characters feel incredibly real to me: 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: 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: 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. Dec 09, Lisa Nicholls rated it it was ok. 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. Persona 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.
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. Jun 09, Elaine rated it it was ok Shelves: 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 wit Ho hum. 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 more for the protagonists than a slight sadness and an ungratified curiousity to get more 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 more 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! Doesn't seem fully thought through or finished. May 08, Ruediger Landmann rated it it was ok Shelves: 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 s, 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 This is a book about sex. The plot is very simple and linear, more 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 ] —he displays eloquence and a rich interior life. I vacillated on how convincing I found this contrast between his external and internal persona, but I think I was more convinced than not.
There is some really gorgeous prose in here. In particular, there's a whole-page description of Harry's whippet that absolutely wowed me, and I'm not even a dog person. She's an antler covered in warm velvet. Her legs are sticks; her yolky heart hangs in its brittle cage of ribs. She can't walk in a straight line. When Harry holds the gate open for her she slinks through it. She doesn't stand next to him like you might see a dog in a photograph, but with her back snaked around so it touches his leg.
By the end of the page, I felt I had known this dog for years. There's a smattering of dry humour through the book, mostly related to the banality of country life. If you love the country, I speculate that some of this might be borderline offensive, but in particular, I loved the excitement that the new linoleum causes when it's installed at the nursing home. Of course, the scene that will stay with me the longest, perhaps forever, is the bestiality episode: The constable searched the outhouses and found an elderly sheep in the hayshed. A blue ladies' nightie was hanging from a nail on the shed wall.
A drenching tube and a half empty bottle of Chinese brandy were found nearby. If you want the rest, you'll have to read it for yourself. But again, I didn't find it crude; simply forthright and unvarnished, and even with light touches of humour as the fallout from the incident is described. As gorgeous as the writing is, and how real the central characters seemed, I didn't think there was quite enough to sustain a book of even this modest length.
The ingredients were here for comparison and contrast between sex at its most animalistic, and intimacy between people; between sex that is socially sanctioned, and transgressive sex; but I didn't think Tiffany took up these themes effectively. I found Mateship With Birds too long in some regards and too short in others, and overall, not a book I really enjoyed. Apr 11, Julia rated it really liked it.
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.
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- Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany.
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He knows exactly what he must do, but in what order? 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.
Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany – review | Janine Burke | Books | The Guardian
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! May 03, Steve lovell rated it really liked it. Although I possess a tome giving name to the copious array of birds that populate my island, I am no amateur ornithologist. Naturally the more 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 stand Although I possess a tome giving name to the copious array of birds that populate my island, I am no amateur ornithologist. 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.
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 s these days. 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. At first the book is a series of vignettes outlining bucolic daily happenings and personal histories, taking its time to settle into a more linear narrative. 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.
Harry is a dairy farmer and keen birdwatcher, tending his cows in accordance with the rhythms of milking and breeding. Harry was once married, but his wife left him for another birdwatcher.
Mateship With Birds
He wonders what went wrong. Betty, the woman next door, is bringing up two children on her own. Betty works at the aged-care centre in town, worries about her children Michael and Hazel and imagines a physical relationship with Harry. It has something to do with the lungs and the taking in and expelling of air.
Harry, the pragmatic farmer, is poetic.