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Important message but over-complicated
on 23 August 2017
As you would expect from a renowned journalist, this book hooks you on page one. McCarthy inspires us to imagine what it would be like if the 16 million birds that migrate to the UK every spring were to arrive at once. “They would cover the sky from horizon to horizon … work would stop … it would lead the television news…” And the chapter continues with some hugely inspiring facts about the miracle of bird migration.
Unfortunately however, as the author then describes his dozen or so favourite migrants, I found myself getting quite disappointed and even losing interest in the book. Why? I just couldn’t connect with Mr. McCarthy’s highly erudite and literary descriptions.
For example, when I watch swifts as they scream around the tower of my local church they remind me of a gang of loud teenagers on Red Bull. So I was a bit nonplussed to find that swifts reminded the author of characters from something called The Bacchae of Euripides!
When writing about swallows, he describes – in detail – the work of a Greek vase painter called Euphronios from 500 BC. The chapter on turtle dove gets bogged down in Pliny the Elder and Chaucer. Shakespeare appears regularly, as does King Solomon and Jeremiah.
He does have an important message to communicate – the extremely worrying declines in numbers of migrants. Yet here too he lost me – not with ancient literature but with statistics, which at times seemed like a Microsoft Excel report.
Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo is a book that needed to be written, and needs to be read. Unfortunately I found it hard-going to the point of sometimes becoming totally inaccessible. Maybe you will have the opposite experience.