Ian Colford’s Reviews > The Afterlife of Birds

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The Afterlife of Birds by Elizabeth Philips

Read in October 2016

4 of 5 stars

In The Afterlife of Birds, Henry Jett is alone, his latest girlfriend having packed it in after being freaked out by his unconventional hobby of reassembling the skeletons of birds and small animals. Even though he has no interest in cars, he works a menial job at Ed’s Garage. Unlike his self-centred brother Dan, whose looks, charisma and athleticism have made him a social dynamo and girl magnet all his life, Henry is unassertive and unremarkable: the friend whose face you have trouble remembering but who can nonetheless be counted upon to answer the call for help when things fall apart. Henry’s life is going nowhere at a snail’s pace, and he knows it. But what is he to do? However, change is happening all around him. His brother falls off the radar after deciding to run a marathon and embarking upon an obsessive regimen that takes over his life; his mother decides to sell the nursery that she’s been operating for as long as Henry can remember and go to Australia; Marcie, an employee of long standing at the nursery and close friend of Henry’s, decides she wants to be a mother; and Mrs. Bogdanov, an elderly acquaintance of Henry’s who he’s been helping in numerous small ways for years, runs into health problems. As he observes the effects these changes are having on himself and those he loves, Henry finds it is impossible to stay unaffected and remote. Elizabeth Philips’ novel is about an ordinary man who discovers that to be ordinary is to be anything but. Drawn into a world of change, Henry Jett is forced to acknowledge wishes and desires he didn’t even know he harboured. The novel is closely observed and emotionally resonant. The action moves at a slow burn, but Philips writes complex and beautiful sentences that must be savoured in a leisurely manner. Admirable and entertaining, The Afterlife of Birds is literary fiction at its best.