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Little Bird Paperback – 6 Aug 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (6 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007242379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007242375
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 683,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description

Review

Praise for LITTLE BIRD:

'Hauntingly beautiful and emotionally truthful' Marie Claire

'Brilliantly executed - it's simply impossible to put down' Cosmopolitan

‘This sad, thoughtful tale is a refreshing look at language and relationships as you’re drawn into Elodie’s unique view of the world. Great pace, a dramatic plot and constant changes of location suggest this will be a summer hit.’
Elle

Praise for THE DEAD OF SUMMER:

The tale has all the right ingredients…the pace is compelling, and a clever double twist makes for a satisfying climax. Way writes clearly and evocatively, with a kind of tough lyricism.
Joanne Harris, The Washington Post

‘A modern day classic in the making’ Dazed & Confused

‘A beautifully written descent into darkness’ Glamour

‘So addictive you’ll devour it in one greedy gulp’ Cosmopolitan

‘Creepy, clever, compelling…absolutely superb' Arena

'Prepare to be gripped by this brilliantly haunting novel' Grazia

‘An amazing debut’ New Woman

‘This compelling psychological thriller is a real hair-raising read thanks to the gritty realistic writing' She magazine

'Way has just 'Got It'. The London Paper

From the Author

Q: What inspired you to write Little Bird?

A: I was intrigued by cases of ‘feral children’ – children who have, for one reason or another, grown up isolated from society – locked away by family members or found running wild with wolves or littlepacks of dogs, or left to fend for themselves in the jungle or outback. What especially interested me was society’s reaction when their stories came to light. The media likens them to wild beasts or savages; they’re a source of morbid fascination and fear. I found some extraordinary stories. Most of these children emerge from their exile or captivity unable to speak, and they are rarely successfully rehabilitated. The more cases I unearthed, the more I wondered if such a child could ever go on to function in normal society, form relationships with other people and so on. These questions planted the seed of an idea for Little Bird. Why do you think there is such a long-term interest in these cases? The idea of the ‘wild child’ has fascinated us throughout history, ever since the legend of Romulus and Remus. There are many examples of feral children in literature and we all remember fairytales about children lost in the woods. When a real-life case hits the news – children raised by wolves, kept in chicken coops, locked in cellars, unable to communicate in anything but grunts and yelps – the media furore is extraordinary. I guess part of it is fear: are we, beneath our social niceties, basically savages? People are frightened of that fine line between beast and human. It’s the whole Lord of the Flies thing – stripped of civilisation, how long would it take us to revert to our baser instincts? One of the main themes of the book is the question of what makes us human – what separates us from animals. Language, a sense of self, the ability to feel emotion, to fall in love – as well as darker impulses, such as premeditated murder. These are all themes I wanted to explore in Little Bird.

Q: Did you have to do a great deal of research? What did this involve?

A: The main thing I had to research was how we acquire language. ‘Feral’ or ‘socially confined’ children – children who’ve never learnt to speak – offer scientists a fascinating insight into how our brains work. How we learn to speak is one of the most fiercely debated issues in cognitive science. To what extent is language innate or learnt? Do we mimic others, parrot-fashion, or is it built into our biological make-up? I learnt about the ‘Critical Period’ theory, the belief that, if we haven’t acquired language by a certain age (the onset of puberty) we will never be able to do so because of how our brain develops; its hemispheric growth and lateralisation. After puberty a person will be able to acquire basic vocabulary but will never master syntax or grammar, so won’t be able to string complete sentences together. In Little Bird, Elodie is aged two when snatched, so her brain would already have begun to acquire very basic language, plus she escapes the forest before puberty. I also found out that, when learning to communicate, the human brain has more in common with the songbird than it has with the ape. That’s what gave me the idea for Elodie’s ability to mimic birdsong.

Q: Often, the world that Elodie finds after the forest is more brutal than the one she left behind. Why is this?

A: From reading about real-life cases, I began to wonder how the media interest, plus all the focus from various doctors, carers, brain specialists, speech therapists, etc. would affect such a child. What if one of these doctors was more interested in their own glory than the child’s welfare? One of the main themes of the book is Elodie’s quest to gain control over her own life, to establish her own identity. Both Mathias and Ingrid make use of Elodie, to an extent. This control is symbolised by two green dresses, the first one, in the forest with Mathias, the second at the conference with Ingrid. The theme of control pops up throughout the book (later Elodie passes a young prostitute dressed in green shorts), as does the question of identity. After leaving America, Elodie/Kate often struggles with the idea of how she appears to others, sleeping with various men to gain a sense of self, or feeling as though others see her as a blank canvas, or a mirror. Even Frank’s love for her is initially based on his own projected, idealistic view of her. Of course, Elodie/Kate/Little Bird spends the book trying to find out who she is and as the story enfolds we gradually see her gaining control over her own life. It was important that Elodie does this for herself and on her own terms, before Frank returns at the end.

Q: What effect do you think language has on identity?

A: Language is something we all take very much for granted, until perhaps we go to a foreign country – but even then we have our own, internal dialogue to help us place ourselves in the world. Although we think in both words and pictures, language, of course, enables us to express ourselves; our desires and needs, gives us a ‘voice’ in every sense of the word, to negotiate our place in society. Elodie learns language at the same time as she discovers the world. Unlike Frank’s sections, I wrote the Elodie/Kate parts of the book in the present tense. I did this to convey a sense of immediacy, to show how Elodie is encountering the world for the first time while simultaneously acquiring the ability to label it and express how she feels about it.

Q: The pictures of the three south London boys, and especially Frank, are very moving, particularly their struggle to make something of themselves, to make sense of adult life.

A: I wanted a parallel story to run alongside Elodie/Kate’s that was more accessible, more easy to identify with. I was interested in the idea of what would happen if an ordinary person fell in love with someone like Elodie. How would they cope with her past? But also, although Elodie’s story is extraordinary, far out of the realms of our everyday experience, everyone’s life is extraordinary to the person living it. Frank has his own demons to face. Unlike Elodie’s sections, his parts of the book are in the past tense because to an extent, he is stuck in the past, forever suspended in the moment of his father’s abandonment. And just like Elodie he’s trying to find himself, to grow up and build a life for himself. All three of the boys are, like Elodie, dealing with issues of identity and acceptance, love and adulthood. The three boys, who until now are held in a kind of perpetual adolescence, are forced to sink or swim, as Elodie is – as we all are, sooner or later.

Q: The London scenes are very evocative. Where did you find your inspiration for such interesting, lively descriptions of people and places?

A: A large part of Little Bird is set in south-east London where I grew up, although I’ve lived all over the city at various stages of my life. The characters in the novel, especially the three boys, though not based on anyone in particular are I guess, based on the kinds of people I have grown up with and lived around all my life. Just ordinary, down-to-earth people. As for the setting, I love writing about London, it’s a city I think I’ll never get bored with trying to describe. In Little Bird, I wanted to put across two different views of the city: one through the eyes of someone like Frank, who has lived in the same area all his life, and one from an immigrant’s standpoint who might see the city very differently, as a place of flux and transience, its inhabitants ever changing, as experienced by Elodie.

Q: Little Bird leaves us wondering what becomes of Frank and Kate after the final page. Do they live happily ever after?

A: I’ll leave that for the reader to decide but I think they both have a lot of living and growing up to do before they settle down to marriage and kids! I like to think that whatever happens, whether they end up together or not, they’ll continue to look after each other.

Q: This is your second novel. It’s notoriously hard to write the second one, did you find it difficult?

A: Yes. I didn’t make things easier for myself by choosing an incredibly complicated structure and subject matter. It’s written from two different perspectives, in two different tenses, in three different countries, over a time-span of 20-odd years. What was I thinking?! The hardest parts to write were Elodie’s sections, before she learnt language. I soon discovered that it was a huge challenge to write about someone who has no words, could have no internal dialogue and with whom I could not rely on the crutch of other people’s speech to describe what was going on. Everything Elodie experienced had to be described in the form of sensory perceptions, or impressions, or feelings, or instincts. It was the old creative writing adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ pushed to its limits! Whether I pulled it off or not, it was a valuable learning exercise. Writing my first book, The Dead of Summer, was more of an instinctive process; it almost wrote itself, but I think I spent much of Little Bird learning the craft of writing, and it was just a much more experimental kind of book.

Q: What is your favourite novel of all time?

A: Probably Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. It was written in 1941 and set between the wars. Hamilton’s writing is bleakly poetic. I love the way he writes about London; his sense of place is so woven into the plight of his characters. I think it’s a masterpiece. I’m very drawn to writers of this period, for instance Graham Greene, Carson McCullers and John Steinbeck, all of whom, like Hamilton, have a superb sense of place, almost as if the setting is one more character in the book. There is an outward simplicity and lyricism that they all share and together they have created some of the most memorable characters of the last century. I also like the poetry of this period; TS Eliot and Philip Larkin for example.

Q: Have you any thoughts on what the subject matter will be for your next novel?

A: Yes. I won’t give too much away, but setting-wise I’m moving to the West End of London for this one. It’s a whodunit set in the dark heart of the city. Watch this space.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By marcoscu TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Oct 2008
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The long, linear tale of Elodie, stolen from her pram in her native France and raised by a mute in the forest. Her story continues as she's moved,against her will, to a remote house in rural New England, to New York and finally London where, living under an assumed name with a fake passport, her past starts to catch up with her.

It's a smoothly compelling read. For page after page, Elodie's life is mostly routine - barely anything happens, and yet the writing and the fascination for what's coming next keep you reading. The peppering of dramatic, direction-changing events add just enough excitement and the final part of the book, when Elodie - now Kate - is hiding in plain sight in London, afraid of her true identity and her past becoming known, thrill with a quiet intensity that keeps you turning the pages long after you should have turned out the light and gone to bed and the final twist is well worth waiting for.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By RozziD VINE VOICE on 6 Nov 2008
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This book follows the story of Elodie Brun who, as an infant, was abducted from her pram and raised in a forest in France by a mute. She lives quite happily with him until the day he commits suicide. When she is found, Elodie doesn't speak at all - the only noises that escape her mouth are the birdsongs she has learnt to mimic.

She is then taken to the USA where she is under the care and tuition of a linguistics expert who is certain she can give Elodie language, and from then the story continues to follow Elodie through into adulthood.

The story is well written and although the twists are not particularly surprising, it doesn't make the book any less enjoyable. I found it very easy to read and the characters both believeable and likeable.

I have to agree with the reviewer who thinks that fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this story. I will certainly be reading more of Camilla Way's novels in the future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Chris F on 19 Oct 2008
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I would normally give any book that begins with the snatching of a young child a very wide birth, but I persevered and, within a page, was captivated.

The first few chapters of this story are exceptional; quite the most different thing I have read in a long while.

It is difficult to give a full review without disclosing details of the plot, but much of the pleasure in reading this novel was, for me, not knowing what would happen next.

From the beginning chapters, which are promising, compelling, charming, vivid and original, the plot slowly descends in quality and too many coincidences are used. This strains the suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking in a few parts.

I also felt that the original charm of the story was slowly lost as the plot progressed. My feeling is that the author ran out of ideas and this is a shame.

The book, overall, was enjoyable however and I would still recommend reading it. Maybe the author's next novel can combine the originality of the first half of the book with a plot that matches the original promise?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bezerus Bezby VINE VOICE on 14 Dec 2008
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I really enjoyed this. They say never judge a book by its cover and other equally boring cliches, but in this case, it is true. The cover to this is a little bit lacklustre, but don't let that fool you. This book is well written, fast paced, but some beautiful prose and an original storyline. All in all, one of the best books I have read this year.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A. Rose TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 26 Nov 2008
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This is a very easy book to read with an interesting and intriguing plot. The story goes back and forth in time but it is easy to keep up with who's who and what's what. Like many other reviewers, I do feel there was something missing and the plot could have been better contrived. The start of the story I thought was excellent and had great promise but I wanted to know more about the abducted girl's upbringing - what did she do all day for eleven years ? did she never actually see another human in all that time ? she must have had thoughts like why/how am I here, what is the point of life and, as aeroplanes are all over the sky (even Normandy!) she must have wondered what's that up there. After she had escaped the forest after the abductor's death I would have expected the story to have really taken off but it seemed to lack emotion, feelings and basic humanity. The last third of the book was alright but needed more suspense. I don't know if the lack of suspense was because the reader already knew most of the answers from earlier in the book but it could have done with a bit of beefing up. Having said that, it wasn't lacking in content as this book seemed to have everything - abduction, suicide, bewilderment, sadness, anger, hopelessness, prostitution, gay, drugs, alcoholism, jealousy, murder - what more could you want to pack in there !

On the whole I did enjoy the book and it was well written, well constructed, had a few twists and would recommend it as a good easy read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BusyReader VINE VOICE on 21 Oct 2008
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Right from the start I found this a compelling book that grabbed my attention and I wanted to read on and see what happened .
It's the story of a 'feral child' abducted by a mute man as a toddler, and then brought up by her abductor in the woods in France (the reason for this abduction is made clear in a later part of the book), with no other human contact for 10 years. Her abductor dies and she is 'rescued' then sent to live in the USA as the project of an American Doctor whose aim is to educate her and make her fit into society and modern life. Despite a pampered lifestyle and wanting for nothing she gradually realises that she is again captive, and escapes in tragic circumstances. She ends up with a new identitity in another country - England, and makes another new life for herself but still her past and events come back to haunt her and affect her life.
There were definate echoes of Pygmalion here with a welll meaning and / or ambitious Doctor wanting to improve a savage! But I liked the way that the story was written both in the past and the current times and flitted between periods and the three different lives easily without my losing the flow of events.
The characters developed well and became likeable, and although some of the subject matter was dark it kept my attention and there were several twists to the tale that made it an enjoyable read.
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