Mateship with Birds
Mateship with Birds is a tightly crafted novel about family, sex and relationships. Yet the apparent simplicity and clarity of the story belies a deceptively complex, and successful, realisation of its narrative. Set in a small northern Victorian town in the mid-1950s, the narrative revolves around Harry’s dairy farm which is next to Betty Reynold’s home, where she lives with her two children, Michael and Little Hazel. Harry’s life revolves around birds, Betty and her children, and his farm. Betty’s life too, and that of her children, is entwined with Harry’s, but neither Betty nor Harry seem to be able to move from dependency and friendship to intimacy.
The narrative hums with raw bodily functions and procreation: the birds whose lives Harry carefully documents in a journal; Harry’s cows; Harry’s considered, meticulous meditations on the nature of sex which he feels he needs to impart to young Michael; Betty’s desire for Harry; and Michael’s own, much more instinctive desire for his girlfriend. Driving the story is the intersection of the rhythms of nature and 1950s regional Australian life. Tiffany’s clever, closely observed evocation of the cadence of the language and attitudes of this period underpins an engaging and unusual, sometimes startling visceral, love story which asks us the question about the origins of our emotions: are they artifice or instinct?