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on 4 May 2010
The only thing I didn't like about this book was the title. But at the moment I can't think of a better one ... Perhaps Will and William.

To use the same name for the protagonist and the antagonist is key in this story. It keeps you confused until the very end ... and then all of sudden everything makes sense. It made me feel sad and disgusted and happy at the same time.

In short Will or William (who's just left his job and spends his days doing nothing) can't believe his luck when a girl called Alice wants to be his girlfriend. He just makes one big mistake: introducing him to his so-called best friend Will or William ...

In another part of town, Helen - a girl not unlike Alice - is making money from acting. But it's not exactly Shakespeare ... and her path crosses Will's or William's path in a way you'd not expected.

I was hooked from the first chapter and couldn't stop reading. I loved the Bird room because of the way it's written. It's simplistic yet complicated with a clever twist.
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This is a very short book which I read in two sittings, but since I finished it a few days ago I've found myself thinking about it more and more - the first time a book has nagged at me for a long while.

The book seems simple enough at first, telling the story of a man (Will) and his girlfriend (Alice), and Will's artistic friend who is also called Will. Non-arty Will introduces Alice to arty-Will, and from then on their relationship crumbles. A simple, if bleak, opening.

Then, the story shifts, and deals with another girl, Helen, who seems to work as a prostitute, and she has a (imaginary?) sister, and lives with a woman who doesn't approve of Helen's job and is herself rarely seen due to her night-time job in a casino. Helen hears from a potential client who wants to have sex with her on camera... and his name is Will too...

From this point the story becomes something of a puzzle, and you find yourself wondering who is who - is Helen really Alice; is the Will visited by Helen arty-Will or non-arty-Will or another Will entirely; is the Helen storyline set before, during or after the Wills & Alice story... and so on. In some ways any of these could be possible, and in the end the story ends ambiguously, almost as though the author wasn't quite sure himself.

Some have commented that they feel the urge to read the book again in case they missed something obvious, and I myself feel a little like this. I found myself flicking back through the book every now and again when certain things were mentioned which I was convinced I'd previously read, and sure enough there are plenty of links between the characters and storylines to be found. To be honest, I did enjoy the book and found it intriguing, but am I going to read it again to see what I missed? It's unlikely.

Well-written and intriguing, but I feel it thinks it is cleverer than it really is. I'll look out for his next book as he can certainly write, but for now this one is just a three star début in my opinion.
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on 20 December 2009
The Bird Room is Chris Killen's first novel. It came out in hardback this year and the paperback edition is being published in January 2010. It's slim enough to read in a day, and the simplicity of its style means it's an undemanding read, gobbled up as easily as a comic. Yet despite its easy readability, it's quirky and whimsical - think Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with black adult streaks; a slight delight that can be snaffled between heavier fare.

Related mostly in the first person and the third person, the story unfolds in the present tense interspersed with flash-backs. At the start, the narrator is introducing a girl called Alice to his friend Will, a louche, shallow artist. Why is he introducing them? Is he match-making? We soon realise this is not the case. This neurotic young narrator has worried himself into a corner, created problems where there were none. In short, his paranoia about why his girlfriend likes him is destroying his relationship. Hampered by emotional inarticulacy, he anxiously digs himself into a hole. Meanwhile, his introduction of Alice to his 'friend' Will backfires.

This is a sweet, funny novelette which zips along like one of those cartoon relationships they used to have in girls' magazines of the '70s and '80s like My Guy and Jackie, only it's told from the boy's point of view rather than the girl's and with darker aspects of life thrown in. And we find out that boys can be just as over-analytical, worried and self-destructive as girls.

The humour comes from the way young men and women circle each other like mating animals, laughing coquettishly and trying to impress each other; acting parts. Here's an extract from where Will, the not untalented but certainly insensitive and loutish artist, shows Alice his French holiday photos:

'A run of photos taken in the train's toilet. One of the toilet bowl. One of himself in the mirror. She spends an extra few seconds on that one. She knows he's an artist and she wants to impress him, so she says 'I really like this part here, how the light sort of bounces off the mirror. Was that intentional?'

They are very bad photographs. Will is not a photographer. He's a painter. His paintings themselves are crude, almost childish in design.

'Dunno,' he shrugs. 'Didn't really think too much about it.' '

The awkwardness of the gauche , internally tortured narrator is conveyed with piercing accuracy:

'I take another sip of my tea. It's gone cold. I stand it near my foot. Later, when we get up to leave, I will knock it over. I will apologise. Will will tell me it really doesn't matter. Alice will look at me like I'm a prick. I will go over the top and offer to buy him some carpet shampoo. She will say, '****'s sake, it's just tea. It's not BLOOD.' '

The simplicity of the prose does not make for inert, vapid reading because Killen is certainly capable of evoking striking images when he wants to. A glib, much-rehearsed and brutish anecdote that Will the artist relates over and over to impress people is described as being 'exactly the same each time he tells it. It has grown slick and cold as a pebble on a riverbed.' (The artist's neanderthal denseness is humourously portrayed in the Q and A session after his anecdote.) The smoke from a cigarette smoked by a nervous young woman embarking on a porn video in a cold bathroom is likened to a stalking feline: 'The wisp and smell of the fag ghosts around the bathroom like a cat of smoke, rubbing itself against the pipes and tiles. It purrs its way down the back of her throat.'

There is a particularly endearing part where the narrator, who has taken to poring over the internet all day in an attempt to find an ill-advised amateur video Alice was once in, imagines computing his way into Alice's heart:

'I double-click on Alice in my head. I will double-click on her until she falls in love with me again... I will copy and paste myself into the folder of her affections... I double-click on Will. I select and delete him. 'Are you sure you want to send Will to the Recycle Bin?' I ask myself, then click 'Yes'. '

The more disturbing element of the story is provided in the form of Clair, a former Boots shop assistant who has changed her name to Helen and tells her mother she's now an actress. Unfortunately the only acting she does is in amateur porn videos. This more disturbing stand of the story is related in third person. But Helen's story has a sweet ending; we realise she was not as deeply into the porn trade as we feared, so that story retains a sort of innocence despite the subjects broached.

In the end, The Bird Room is a whisper of modern love showing how jealousy, insecurity and lack of communication can destroy an otherwise good relationship. It's like a written version of a cross between Jilted John and Buzzcocks. A short sharp shock of bitter-sweet, intense, plaintive young angst. ****0
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Official reviewer M J Hyland states that this is "an astonishingly good novel. I was gripped from the first page". That's laying it on a bit thick, as the first page is made up of five lines, the most meaningful of which include "I'm standing in the corner of the living room, naked. Her favourite hat hangs from my erection." Sorry, but that wasn't enough to grip me. Another official reviewer also quoted on the back cover, Toby Litt, opines "An extremely engaging combo of sex, melancholy and killer one-liners." Again I have to disagree, the sex wasn't engaging and most of the one-liners left me straight-faced. In fact, novels in general are difficult to make funny and the overwhelming majority that I have read, and which claim to be laugh-out-loud hilarious, have been lead-balloons in reality. And there's little I like more than a good laugh.

So with the book having a sense of humour failure, I turn to more fundamental issues such as the quality of the story and the characters. First of all I did not like the near permananent use of writing in the present tense, it was a distraction that I could have done without and while I became accistomed to it I always felt it to be a niggling distraction that more conventional past tense writing would not have caused. The storyline is well documented here on Amazon and I would concur that it is, in a nutshell, a lot about nothing much. That could have been reconciled by fascinating character development, but in my opinion it was never anything special and the bottom line is that I cared little for any of the main characters involved, and that's a fatal flaw in any novel even if the story is good and the writing of good quality.

If I was not a regular reader of good novels then maybe I would have been more generous, but the fact is that I read novels every day and every time I find a good one, more so a great one, it raises my personal standards in readiness for the next one. For example, a debut novel that I read recently - Chelsea Cain's HEARTSICK - raised the bar for me with regard to character creation and development, and in particular with regard to any claims for being 'brilliantly disturbing' as Steven Hall described Killen's The Bird Room. It may be a diffrent kind of disturbance of the mind, but it's light years better in my view.

This isn't bad, but it misses on several key objectives in reader entertainment and is forgettable within a day or two.
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is a theme of ambiguity that pervades this novel. Killen parades it, too, using very simple, sparse prose, almost like Hemingway, and yet still sowing mystery. Two characters share the same name, so there are times when it is not entirely clear which of them we are reading about. One character has two names (or is it three, as the last page subtly hints?) and an imaginary, nameless sibling. Some are never named at all. Events are related out of sequence but this is not made immediately clear. And in the last line of the book, a crucial decision is made and acted on, but we are prevented from knowing what it is and have to imagine what might have happened and what might go on to happen.

All this abiguity combines with a second thread about pornography and sexual disfunction. There is impotence - in every sense - as well as remoteness, sometimes deliberate and sometimes entirely involutary. Images of squalour and dampness abound, and the whole sense of oppression and hopelessness is palpable. That there isn't really a sympathetic character for us to anchor to compounds the feeling, and we emerge from the novel thoroughly unsettled.

And in this, the novel reveals its only real flaw. It is harder than it ought to be to become involved in the world of the book, because there is no easy way in, no sympathetic character to care about. Everyone here is damaged, but not in a way that encourages the reader to hope for their redemptions.
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on 16 July 2011
I've been reading through books for a while now in the hope that I'll find something that would make me stop and think for a while. The Bird Room has done it. It's consistently simple in its form and peppered with memorable one-liners that will bring a smile of recognition on your face. Brilliantly constructed and free of redundant words/phrases/sentences, The Bird Room will leave you checking for Chris Killen's next title. Peckish for more.

In my case it wasn't so much for the plot, it was for the linguistic craft that I'd been craving.
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on 5 January 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A book about nothing. Or rather, plenty happens, but it's mostly in the head of Will #1, chief protagonist. Other characters have their say too, but mostly via Will's perspective as he slowly breaks down under the weight of his girlfriend's infidelity, his joblessness and general sense of worthlessness.

It's not a happy story, and yet it made me laugh out loud several times. Essentially a series of brilliant one-liners running through the mind of an ordinary bloke in the midst of a serious breakdown.

Its chief strength is in the quality of the writing. Chris Killen hits you with a staggering array of metaphor and a descriptive skill that is just stunning. An amazing debut.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Bird Room is a difficult book to review. The story seems surprisingly simple on the surface but actually runs much deeper into the loneliness and insecurities of the main character Will, and those of almost all of the other characters in the book. The whole book reads quite easily though, and it could comfortably be read in an afternoon if you have the time. There are some really good lines in the book, and also fantastic descriptions which give some much needed colour. Though I enjoyed reading The Bird Room it's not a book that I can rave about, but it's certainly one that I can recommend that you try yourself.
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VINE VOICEon 12 December 2009
Will lives with Alice, who loves him, but he isn't sure why. He is convinced that she wants to leave him for his cooler, funnier and sexier friend Will. He tortures himself with the idea that she will abandon him for the other Will, in the process turning it into a self-fulfilling prophesy. He leaves his job and spends his days searching the internet for a sex video that Alice made with an ex-boyfriend.

At the same time Helen, who used to be called Clair, is struggling with a life in the sex trade and is working herself up to prostitution with a man called Will who could be either one of the Wills previously mentioned. In fact it is quite feasible that Helen/Clair is in fact Alice and there is only one Will all along.

Confused? Yes, I was too. But this in no way stopped me enjoying The Bird Room. On the contrary. It reads like a David Lynch film, a very English Inland Empire.

This is a book about people trapped in their situations, trapped by themselves and trapped by modern life. It is about people searching for something else asides from the dullness of their present existence. It is about claustrophobia, loss and jealously.

It is post modern almost to the point of parody; chronology is all mixed up, characters exist in more than one place at the same time, you are never really sure who is who and yet, somehow it all works.

Looking back at it now it is hard to say how it makes a coherent whole, but for such a puzzle of a book there is a definite sense of satisfaction at the end, even while coupled with the niggling feeling that you don't quite understand it.

I intend to go back and re-read this at a later date, armed with the knowledge of what the whole thing looks like, much in the same way you would look at the picture on the back of a jigsaw to put it together.

From a technical point of view the writing is superb- stripped back, witty and flawless. There is a jet black humour at work here and some really sharp descriptive writing. The book is deceptively simple to read and you could skim through the novel, more of a novella really, in the space of an afternoon, but I get the distinct impression that the real pleasure of the The Bird Room will come from repeat visits.
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This is an edgy, black-humoured debut and I look forward to Killen getting a bit more artistry and feeling into his characters. At the moment they are all a bit null. The sexual situations are oddly unerotic and there is very little to go on to make this a story one wants to read. There are two men called Will, one of whom is something of a cocksman, and one who isn't. Will number two is the more appealing character, but seems to have no charisma, no appealing characteristics, and nothing much to recommend him. Especially as he withdraws from the world, giving up his job, and does nothing but look at porn sites all day. But who are these people? Is Will no. 1 really so successful with girls? We get little to suggest he is, other than his somewhat bombastic personality.

The two women in the book are very similar in how they come across, and they are almost interchangeable - or is this a feature of Will no. 2's ineffectuality? If someone does nothing but look at porn all day, he must be obsessed. He's looking for the video of Helen (or is it Alice?) that she made for £500.

To be honest, I felt irritated that nothing much identified the differences between Alice and Helen. If, indeed, they are different people. There was a lack in this book that annoyed me, even a kind of contempt for the business of writing. Having said that, I did feel that he has promise. Or maybe Chris Killen is just having a larf.
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