Bird Country by Claire Aman – book review

by Anna Rogers / 04 December, 2017

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

Claire Aman: capable of some showstopper phrases.

A collection of stories from across the Ditch is redolent of the land and its people.

In the introduction to his 2008 selection of Owen Marshall stories, Vincent O’Sullivan identified “Marshall country” as “a distinctive and compelling place, pretty much like the one we live in day by day”. A vivid sense of place is also stamped on the debut short-story collection of Australian writer Claire Aman.

In Bird Country, she marks out her territory, often the New South Wales town of Grafton, but also the wider rural landscape – the mud and dust, the rickety pubs and past-their-best houses, the roads and, yes, the birds. Even the lists of place names are evocative.

The people who inhabit these stories live mostly outside the expected social boundaries, loners in their different ways, coping with love and loss, facing the challenge of expressing emotion. In “Louis”, as floodwaters rise, a mother hides her son in a cockatoo cage to protect him from police; “Wrangler” is about a young woman injured in a motorbike accident who is trapped in a run-down country hotel; “Why the Owl Gazes at the Moon” features a cook at an isolated roadhouse who yearns to tell a stranger about the death of her sister.

Aman’s ideas are original and her imagination fertile. Her writing is generally attractive and strong, with a sure touch when it comes to telling detail. In “Those Gauls Must Be Crazy”, the eccentric central character, about to gatecrash her cousin’s wedding, is swiftly defined by her blue-spangled tights and the pink dressing-gown cord she is using as a dog leash.

Aman is capable of some showstopper phrases, such as the “naked and mortified brightness” of the dead possum’s eyes in “Sustenance”, and she has a nice line in dry humour.

Occasionally there could be more stringency and sparseness to offset the slight threat of sentimentality, but the confidence that those qualities require will develop. Peopled with memorable and often touching characters, and redolent of Australia, Bird Country is a thoroughly enjoyable and varied reading experience, and Aman is a writer to watch.

BIRD COUNTRY, by Claire Aman (Text, $37)

This article was first published in the October 14, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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