A hypnotic and thought-provoking novel inspired by the sensational Lord Lucan case, by the Orange Prize-shortlisted author of Fred & Edie.
Drawing on the infamous Lord Lucan affair, this compelling novel explores the roots of a shocking murder from a fresh perspective and brings to vivid life an era when women's voices all too often went unheard.
In the summer of 1974, Mandy River arrives in London to make a fresh start and begins working as nanny to the children of one Lady Morven. She quickly finds herself in the midst of a bitter custody battle and the house under siege: Lord Morven is having his wife watched. According to Lady Morven, her estranged husband also has a violent streak, yet she doesn't seem the most reliable witness. Should Mandy believe her?
As Mandy tries to shield her young charges from harm, her friend Rosemary watches from the wings - an odd girl with her own painful past and a rare gift. This time, though, she misreads the signs.
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Mandy is a gorgeous creation, a character so warm and vivid you half wish you could take her out for a drink . . . Dawson is good at delineating class, particularly as it manifested itself in the '70s, when the clenched '50s and the new world of the '60s were still in a fight to the death: every detail is perfect, from children's toys to mealtimes . . . it's impossible to tire of Mandy, or of Neville, the West Indian man with whom she falls in love — Rachel Cooke, Observer, Book of the Day
This book is in a class of its own . . . A glimmeringly intelligent, vital and compassionate exploration of nature,
nurture and female desire, it also taps a deep vein of anger and sorrow at the fate of innumerable abused and
murdered women. Timely, devastating and superbly realised.
— Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
[Jill Dawson] specialises in telling the secret underbelly of well-known stories. Her new novel The Language of Birds is . . . poignant and heartbreaking. — Louise Doughty, Cosmopolitan
In this gripping, fictional retelling, the nanny is the centre of the story . . . This dazzling novel combines the pace of a thriller with moving, poetic writing. — Joanne Finney, Good Housekeeping Book of the Month
Addictive and moving — Emerald Street
Jill Dawson explores the [Lucan] case from the nanny's perspective, bringing her to life as a fictional yet vivid character. And, in the process, she takes on the British class system, misogyny and domestic violence. Even though we know the tragic ending, the novel is curiously uplifting. — Liz Hoggard, Radio Times
I loved it. It's a brilliant riposte to all the Lucan myth-making that has developed over the years - so moving and so righteously angry. — Paula Hawkins, author of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Strange, alluring and gripping, it's fascinating to see a famous "scandal" from the voiceless victim's point of view. The Language of Birds pulls you towards the inevitable tragedy while delicately unpicking the tangles in the mother-baby-nanny triangle, the British class system and the hidden horrors of domestic violence. Jill Dawson is one of our most interesting writers. — Sofka Zinovieff, author of PUTNEY
Glorious and exquisitely written. And - for a book that takes one of the most famous murders of the 20th century as its inspiration - astonishingly full of life and joy. — Emma Flint, author of LITTLE DEATHS
Dawson has a great talent for turning real people into fictional characters . . . By viewing the drama through the eyes of two nannies - the watchful Mandy and her more gullible friend Rosemary - Jill Dawson introduces an intriguing new perspective on the well-known tale. The cold, knowing world of upper-class entitlement is captured with fresh eyes. Dawson is particularly sharp on the nanny's conflicting thoughts about her neurotic employer. — Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday