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3.4 out of 5 stars
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3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 6 August 2012
Let's not beat about the bush - this book is about sex. Complaining about the gritty descriptions of sex is like saying there is too much sex in D H Lawrence - that's what the book is about. But it's also about nature and man's place in the animal kingdom. As in Carrie Tiffany's previous book the characters are real, if eccentric and the writing is sensitive although it may describe thoughts and actions which appear crude on the surface. The parallel descriptions of human and kookaburra family life are instructive and charming and the author shows a deep knowledge of both. Harry's relationship with his cows is also touching and demonstrates the gentleness of an otherwise clumsy man. His poetic descriptions of bird life may be a slightly false note, but perhaps the poetry is forced on him by having to write his descriptions in the short lines that one column of an old dairy ledger allows. A satisfying and believable ending adds to the enjoyment of this fine book.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In a remote part of Australia, neighbours scrape a living - hopes and dreams their escape from reality. Farmer Harry keeps a watchful eye on nearby Betty with her children Michael and Hazel. Michael especially needs guidance, he bewildered by adolescence. Harry tries to help him avoid the awkwardnesses he himself experienced.

Life here is evocatively described, with vivid images that disturb: the unrelenting chores, jarring memories, frequent encounters with accidents and death - help needed when they occur.

The world of nature can be lyrical, but mainly boils down to a struggle to survive. Much can be learned from how creatures cope. Hazel's observations are interestingly penned in nature notes for school; Harry keeps detailed, almost poetical, records of the opportunistic kookaburras nesting on his land.

All have an inbuilt need to procreate, sexual matters very much a feature of the book - readers divided over whether these are too explicit.

Many may find this portrayal haunting and rather sad. At one point Betty claims, "It is all downhill from here." I felt for these people and rather hope it is not.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Carrie Tiffany's latest novel, "Mateship with Birds", clearly draws much of its inspiration from the monograph of the same title by Australian journalist and naturalist, Alec Hugh Chisholm. The original dates from 1922 and offers a series of personal field notes and anecdotal observations on Australian bird-lore. Chisholm's writings were unusual for their time in that they were drawn entirely from his own extensive and enthusiastic field observations, based on a love for and study of birds as living individuals in the wild and copiously illustrated with his own photographs of birds in their natural environment. The more normal approach to researching for scientific and learned texts on Australian indigenous wildlife was to hunt down and shoot specimens in order to study their remains in laboratories and natural history museums, describing form and inferring behaviour from it, rather than resorting to such crude and "unscientific" practices as actually watching things in the bush. Chisholm's writings are a charming mix of accurate observation and blatant anthropomorphisation with the occasional snatch of poetry thrown in for good measure.

Carrie Tiffany's 1950s' dairy farmer, Harry, himself applies Alec Chisholm's principles of "mateship" in his own relationships with the bird-life that shares his farmlands -- most particularly with a resident family of Kookaburras -- meticulously documenting their lives, and coming to know them as characters in their own right. This theme is but a backdrop, though, to the true subject of the book, which has much more to do with human relationships -- and the baser, more animal drive to mate, upon which so many of those relationships are fundamentally based. Harry's own anecdotal field-notes on the sexual appurtenances and predilections of women, jotted down meticulously and in faux-scholarly fashion for his neighbour's teenage son (intended as part of the boy's sex education, offered in a self-appointed role as surrogate father) provide a somewhat ironic parallel to Chisholm's original texts, displaying something of the same charming naiveté and dogged indefatigability.

For all the book's clevernesses, and the detail and accuracy of its observations of people, though, I found Carrie Tiffany's novel ultimately unsatisfying owing to its general lack of cohesive structure or direction, coupled with an emptiness in the characterisation that left me feeling very little indeed for any of the souls within it. And a suspicion too that the title would have been more accurate in the case of the novel, had it contained a comma after the first word.

Worth a look; just don't expect too much.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
`Some intimate topics are better tackled in the evening with a cup of Milo, a sharpened pencil and several sheets of Basildon Bond'.

This is a short book that feels like a long short story. Set in rural 1950s Australia, it's a wryly funny, affectionate, but distinctly odd book about sex and the animal instinct to mate. The frame of a dairy farmer's fecund descriptions of milking his herd, and various watchers following the antics of local birds, sets the scene for a series of characters and their encounters with sex, from young Michael, to his forty-something mother, Betty. At its heart is Harry, their neighbour, whose friendship is expressed in poems, and letters as he strives, fumblingly, to induct Michael into adult male sexuality.

There's a kind of dry earthiness about this text that could be coarse or crude but instead manages to be strangely kind - despite the sometimes uncomfortable descriptions of female bodies. This is a book peopled by odd-ball misfits and yet we're happy that they manage to forge peculiar relationships.

Beyond quirky, this is odd - and yet, somehow, strangely satisfying.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This short novel is set in 1953, in rural Cohuna. Harry and his dog Sip spend their days at the dairy farm, where he cares for his herd and watches the birds, including a family of kookaburras. His wife Edna left him for the President of the Bird Observers Club and now he is alone and attracted to neighbour Betty. Betty, in turn, imagines a relationship with Harry; who acts as a father figure to her two children, Michael and Hazel. Another neighbour, Mr Mues, is, frankly, best avoided...

The local inhabitants look down on unmarried Betty, who works hard and makes lists of children's illnesses. Hazel writes nature reports and Harry writes about his beloved birds and advice about women to Michael, who has recently become interested in girls. Everybody in this book has their own secrets and desires and are attempting to do their best in the world they live in, where the work is hard and poverty close. This book is undeniably about mateship - sex is never far from the thoughts of most of the characters, with flashbacks and letters interspersing the text. Slow moving and atmospheric, but I found it hard to engage with the characters.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Betty and her two children Michael and Hazel live next door to Harry, the taciturn dairy farmer. Harry knows all about birds, especially the family of kookaburras who live nearby. As he becomes closer to Betty and her son Michael, he keeps notes of the family life of the birds, while Betty has kept notes of her children's illnesses and Hazel makes notes for the school nature diary. I guess there are analogies between the family of birds and the humans nearby.

Unfortunately although the book is set in "innocent" 1950's, the title "mateship" is revealing, as the climax of the book (forgive the pun) shows human mating in its rawness after descriptions of avian mating - and cross-species mating. I was left with a feeling of "is that what it's all been about?" at the end - even Harry who initially seemed the sanest, most interesting character, seems slewed into being abnormally focussed on "mating" - I wasn't surprised Betty was ultimately shocked and disgusted by him. I felt disappointed. That's not the absolute end of the story though. "Mateship with anything" might have been a more apt title, with a subtitle "the driving force and motivation of crude, basic animal life."

That possibly sounds like I didn't enjoy the book, but I did - very much.
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on 18 June 2016
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a second novel and it was not a bad attempt. It was set in rural Australia in the 1950s and the reader could easily catch a strong whiff of the dairy farm, the cows and the 50s from the pages. It was well written with a gentle rhythm, not unlike life on the farm. However other readers may well find it rather tedious. The characters are well drawn and the emotions, both adult and child and male and female go well beyond the superficial.

I am not sure that the poems contribute much to the whole package. Some readers may well prefer rather less of the sex and its gritty realism and far more on the birds and their habits. I cannot help feeling that the book was rather an opportunity lost in two ways. More details of the birds and a bit more development of the potential for humour may have widened its appeal and possibly ensured that the book was retained on bookshelves for years and years to allow for pleasurable re-reading.
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VINE VOICEon 14 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Mateship with Birds" is about the sexual awakening of a young man called, Michael, who, like most of us when we were young, is confused about sex. The book treads a dodgy line in that Michael's neighbour, Harry, takes it upon himself to guide Michael about his sexual awakening which today would undoubtedly been seen as perverted and Harry would probably be arrested so the book needs to be read bearing in mind that it is set in the 1950s. The sex descriptions are explicit which may offend some people but I personally found them boring. Some cover topics which some might find very disturbing. I also did not like the style of writing, especially the poetry which is not definitely not my thing. I think the book is supposed to be deep and meaningful study of sexual awakening but to me it was meaningless.

I would not recommend this book.
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VINE VOICEon 5 November 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mateship with Birds is the title of a book of nature notes by Alec Chisholm, first published in 1922, and of this quirky short novel set in a small town farming community in 1950s Australia. (Cohuna, Victoria, apparently 170 miles from Melbourne).

Farmer Harry observes a family of kookaburras, from reproductive rituals to family life, through his binoculars, and writes about what he sees in free verse. He also daydreams about his neighbour next door. Betty also has binoculars, only she isn't watching the birds....

I really liked the characterisation in this novel, especially Betty, single mother of two by choice who simply lets people assume her husband must have died in the war, and avoids gossip or scandal.

This is a story about watching and thinking, with lots of sex thrown in , bird sex and human sex. It takes time to piece together what is going on, but it turns out to be quite a witty and delightful story about two people and the others around them.
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on 24 July 2016
I thought this sounded like it might be romantic and about a love of nature. Unfortunately I gave up reading it after the excessively detailed descriptions of milking cows, elderly men's bowels and genitals, and one character who exposes himself to a little girl and then later on shoots a pair of cockatoos for fun, taking delight in the way the female bird attempts to revive her dead mate before finishing her off too. I usually try to finish reading books once I've started them but this was too horrible and upsetting, and poorly written.
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