Place of Many Birds: Australian Stories

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Hoping to change Luke's ambition and settle him down, Meggie deliberately thwarts his usual contraception and bears Luke a red-haired daughter, Justine. The new baby, however, makes little impression on Luke. Father Ralph visits Meggie during her difficult labour. He has come to say goodbye, as he is leaving Australia for Rome. He sees Meggie's unhappiness and pities her. Justine proves to be a fractious baby, so the Muellers send Meggie to an isolated island resort for a rest. Father Ralph returns to Australia, learns of Meggie's whereabouts from Anne Mueller, and joins her for several days.

There, at last, the lovers consummate their passion, and Ralph realises that despite his ambition to be the perfect priest, his desire for Meggie makes him a man like other men. Father Ralph returns to the Church, and Meggie, pregnant with Ralph's child, decides to separate from Luke. She sleeps one last time with Luke to ensure that her child's paternity would not be questioned, then tells Luke what she really thinks of him and returns to Drogheda, leaving him to his cane-cutting.

Back home, she gives birth to a beautiful boy whom she names Dane. Fee, who has had experience in such matters, notices Dane's resemblance to Ralph as soon as he is born. The relationship between Meggie and Fee takes a turn for the better. Justine grows into an independent, keenly intelligent girl who loves her brother dearly; however, she has little use for anyone else and calmly rebuffs Meggie's overtures of motherly affection. None of Meggie's other surviving brothers ever marry, and Drogheda gradually becomes a place filled with old people.

Place of Many Birds

Ralph visits Drogheda after a long absence and meets Dane for the first time; and although he finds himself strangely drawn to the boy, he fails to recognize that they are father and son. Dane grows up and decides, to Meggie's dismay, to become a priest. Fee tells Meggie that what she stole from God she must now give back. Justine, meanwhile, decides to become an actress and leaves Australia to seek her dream in England.

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Ralph, now a cardinal , becomes a mentor to Dane, but still blinds himself to the fact that the young man is his own son. Dane is also unaware of their true relationship. Ralph takes great care of him, and because of their resemblance, people mistake them for uncle and nephew. Ralph and Dane encourage the rumour. Justine and her brother remain close, although he is often shocked at her sexual adventures and free-wheeling lifestyle.

She befriends Rainer Hartheim, a German politician who is a great friend of both Dane and Ralph—unbeknown to her, he falls deeply in love with her. Their friendship becomes the most important in her life and is on the verge of becoming something more when tragedy strikes. Dane, who has just become a priest, is vacationing in Greece.

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While there, he goes swimming one day and dies while rescuing two women from a dangerous current. Meggie reveals before Dane's funeral that Dane is Ralph's son. Ralph dies in Meggie's arms after the funeral. Justine breaks off all communications with Rainer and falls into a depressed, hum-drum existence.

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Eventually, they renew their acquaintance on strictly platonic terms, until Rainer visits Drogheda alone in order to urge Meggie to help him pursue Justine's hand in marriage. Justine, now the sole surviving grandchild of Fee and Paddy Cleary, finally accepts her true feelings for Rainer. They marry, but have no plans to live on Drogheda. The book's title obliquely refers to the mythical "thornbird" that searches for thorn trees from the day it is hatched. When it finds the perfect thorn, it impales itself and sings the most beautiful song ever heard as it dies. There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth.

From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. It's swift and assured and emotionally wrenching It evokes place, character and time with beauty and precision. The story is compelling, the structure ambitious and the imagery vivid. This is one talented young writer. As Jake comes to see, no man — or woman — can be an island forever, and the opportunity for redemption is part of what it is to be human: both granting it, and allowing it to be granted in turn.

Wyld twists together the warp and weft of poetic language and plot to create a disquieting, deeply suspenseful novel. It lingered with me long after I finished it. For once, the hype matches the talent. This is a powerful, sure-footed effort by a formidable young talent. Expect to hear her name often from now on. Utterly gripping.

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The success of The Goldfinch was a perfect test case. Her pacing is impeccable and the trickle of information she marshals lends tension and compassion to Jake's troubled, solitary existence.

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Evie Wyld is the real thing. I was reminded of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone in the characterisation of the resourceful central character in a hostile male world…poetry of wit, pity and verbal virtuosity enlivens and deepens it. It is an extraordinary book…[a] bleak and beautiful masterpiece.