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The Bird Woman
Little, Brown, August 2006
Reviewer: Amber Stults
Posted: February 1, 2008
* * * * * *
From the moment I picked up The Bird Woman
I found it difficult to put down. The tale of Ellen McKinnon begins in 2001 and includes flashbacks to various points in her life. For some authors flashbacks can be difficult to handle, but Kerry Hardie uses them expertly. They seamlessly flow into one another without jarring the reader out of the moment.
The prologue opens with a phone call from Ellenís brother and his wife. Itís unexpected and includes news about her motherís ill health. Itís the beginning of a journey Ellen makes unwillingly.
Hardie parallels the division between Northern and Southern Ireland to the division in Ellenís life. The first flashback reveals Ellenís first marriage and how her second husband, Liam, saved her from a poorly chosen life.
Towards the start of the novel, it appears as though Ellen uses men as a means of escape. She proclaims herself ďa good girl looking to be a bad oneĒ when she meets Robbie, her first husband. He seems hard because he drinks too much and wonít take guff from anyone yet he hangs out with university students. Robbie is interested in education and ideas. Her family doesnít like him and his family doesnít like her.
After they are married Ellen goes through a rough time. She has visions of events to come, miscarries, and canít stop crying. The medicine doesnít seem to help and she enters a mental institution. Itís shortly after her departure from the institution when she meets Liam and realizes her future lies with him. Within a few hours of her second meeting with Liam, Ellen has a story planned for Robbie to explain her upcoming absence. Itís really a ruse for going off with Liam and starting a new life with him. Sheís given up a Northern Protestant for a Southern Catholic. Her life in Northern Ireland appears to be behind her but the beliefs a person is raised with colors the life a person leads.
Ellenís mother always seemed self-righteous in her belief between right and wrong. Itís her black and white beliefs that constantly make Ellen try to reign in the visions. Slowly the visions change into the ability to heal others. The phone call from her brother puts Ellen in a strange place. She canít heal everything thatís wrong with a person and the pain she experiences from a fatal illness can be difficult to bear.
Many of the characters in The Bird Woman
are likable though some are simply tolerated. Itís because the book is told from Ellenís point of view that anyone who harms Ellen or makes her feel bad can be forgiven. Everyone has a reason for their actions, even her harsh mother.
Iíve never traveled to Ireland but Hardieís prose makes the land come alive. I can hear the windows rattle in the cottage Ellen and Liam call home. The skies darken under the wings of birds in flight. Itís difficult to imagine this story told anywhere else.
About Amber Stults
is a contributing reviewer at OnceWritten.com.
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The Bird Woman, Kerry Hardie
Little, Brown, August 2006
Review © Amber Stults, 2008
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