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The Language of Birds

The Language of Birds

A hypnotic and thought-provoking novel inspired by the sensational Lord Lucan case, by the Orange Prize-shortlisted author of Fred & Edie.

‘In a class of its own . . . glimmeringly intelligent, vital and compassionate’ Daily Mail

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.

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.
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Genre: Fiction & Related Items / Modern & Contemporary Fiction (post C 1945)

On Sale: 4th April 2019

Price: £18.99

ISBN-13: 9781473654549


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
Refusing to get distracted by the largely spurious mystery of Lucan's disappearance, this imaginative and often poetic novel keeps itself grounded in the no-nonsense realities of social class and domestic violence.
Phil Baker, Sunday 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 <i>THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN</i>
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
[Dawson has] an extraordinary facility with language and mood . . . her unsettling novel combines the suspense of a thriller and a haunting sense of melancholy with none of the queasy excess of the true crime genre.
Catherine Taylor, Financial Times
Lady Morven and Mandy are superbly drawn . . . a sensitive and often beautifully written novel
Jake Kerridge, Daily Telegraph
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, Mail on Sunday
Gripping . . . This dazzling novel combines the pace of a thriller with moving, poetic writing.
Joanne Finney, Good Housekeeping Book of the Month
The complex intersections of the mother-baby-nanny triangle and the loneliness of childcare are beautifully depicted . . .The narrative's progress towards the terrifying evening in the dark basement kitchen has the ineluctable pull of tragic myth. We know what must come, but this knowledge never detracts from the memorable beauty and intelligence of the novel. By focussing on the victim, Dawson allows us to completely rethink the original story in a way that honours Sandra Rivett's short life.
Sofka Zinovieff, Guardian
Addictive and moving
Emerald Street
Jill Dawson has always has a knack for spotting sensational true-life stories and making from them intelligent, thought-provoking and terrifically absorbing page-turners. Her latest is no exception . . . The sights and sounds of vibrant Seventies London pop off the page, and the whole thing crackles with life, ideas and - hurrah - unapologised-for female desire.
Summer Holiday Reads, Daily Mail
Compelling . . . it's a heartbreaking read
Eithne Farry, Sunday Express
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 <i>LITTLE DEATHS</i>
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 . . . 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
Poignant and heartbreaking.
Louise Doughty, Cosmopolitan
Highly engrossing . . . Dawson gives powerful voice to someone silenced in history . . . She delves unflinchingly into themes of domestic violence, mental illness and murder with sensitivity and skill. Her greatest achievement is to make Mandy live from these pages not only as a victim of murder but as a young woman filled with an energy too cruelly cut short.
Anita Sethi, The i