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A Bird in the House by Margaret Laurence

A Bird in the House (1963)

by Margaret Laurence

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Strong characters both female and male, with broadly different perspectives throughout. Particular attention of course is paid to the protagonist, young Vanessa, but although perhaps the female characters are the focus, Laurence is fair and generous to the male species as well. The language is also descriptive but not so much that there is a surfeit of verbiage. One feels the indolent breezes of summer and smells the dust, the loneliness of the spinster aunt, and the sorrow of the mother. A wonderful collection of connected stories (so that it's all but a novel). ( )
  Muzzorola | May 25, 2015 |
This is a small book of short stories. But, like The Stone Angel and A Jest of God, they all take place in the fictional town of Manawaka which is a thinly disguised Neepawa, MB where Laurence grew up. According to a Winnipeg Free Press article published at the time of her death in 1987 some people in Neepawa resented the way Laurence portrayed the town. This article says that only a few dozen people attended the memorial service in Neepawa "in sharp contrast to a standing-room-only tribute Friday in Toronto." I am indebted to the person who included a copy of this article in this book. I only found it as I finished the first story so it was a complete surprise to me.

Vanessa McLeod is the central character of the stories. Isabel Huggan, in the afterward to the book, confirms what I suspected i.e. that these stories are autobiographical. Thus, I know quite a bit more about Peggy Wemyss than I did before. Vanessa and Peggy both lost their fathers at a young age. They both tried writing stories from a young age, honing their craft. They both could hardly wait to get out of their small town. Obviously, though, while Peggy while waiting to escape she was also observing all the people, tucking away things that emerged almost 25 years later when this book was written.

It's hard to pick a favourite story because they were all great. I think that the one that affected me the most was probably "The Half-Husky". It's the story of a dog that Vanessa was given by the man who brought birch firewood for the family. Vanessa called him Nanuk in honour of his Husky lineage. Unfortunately Nanuk became the brunt of cruelty perpetrated by the newspaper boy. He became aggressive with anyone outside of the family and had to be euthanized. All these years later I can still feel the outrage Vanessa/Peggy felt. ( )
  gypsysmom | Apr 15, 2012 |
One of my favourites of the series so far, I felt it really showcased the author's writing style and voice in this one. The story progressed nicely, it moved slowly, but the way the author told the story I hardly notice or cared that it was slow. Not to mention she focused highly on her characters, which also tied in nicely with the more slower development of the book.

One aspect I liked about the book was how the author choose to tell the story in a bunc of short mini stories. I wouldn't exactly call this a collection of short stories, but it has the feel of one, as each short story focused on a different event or section of the characters lives. There wasn't an exact timeline for the individuals stories, which once I got used to, I enjoyed. I did find it hard to follow at first because things are told out of order, but once I got past that, it was well done. I didn't like the characters too much. They weren't poorly written, but nothing about them sticks out as memorable either. Their voice was well written, I love the writing in this book, so I didn't mind that I couldn't connect to the characters. Overall a very good read.

Also found on my book review blog Jules' Book Reviews - A Bird in the House ( )
  bookwormjules | Dec 31, 2011 |
Ooh yes, this is a goodie! I've never been overly fond of short stories because I felt that I didn't get to know the characters well enough. This series of stories, however, features the same main characters throughout. The result is that we do get to really understand the context of the narrator's life and to know her well. (It's really very close to being a novel...perhaps it is!)
I bless the day Elizabeth Hay referred to Margaret Laurence and led to me reading Laurence's complete set of novels. ( )
  oldblack | Oct 31, 2011 |
I recommend this book: I really enjoyed this book. We studied it in school this year and at first I found it a bit slow but after a few pages I started to really get into it. It was easy to identify with the main character Vanessa and I really liked the way the rest of the characters were described, especially the grandfather. Here's a little example; "Well, Peter, you've brought the wood." It was his habit to begin conversations with a statement of the obvious, so that nothing except agreement was possible." I like this because it sums up the grandfather' character in two sentences, even though it's being developped throughout the entire novel. I can't really explain exactly why I enjoyed this book so much, I guess it's because of the subtle humor and the emotion involved. The sad parts are quite moving, and that's difficult to do without making the whole book depressing.
  iayork | Aug 9, 2009 |
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That house in Manawaka is the one which, more than any other, I carry with me.
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Republished title: I Remember, I Remember
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226469344, Paperback)

A Bird in the House is a series of eight interconnected short stories narrated by Vanessa MacLeod as she matures from a child at age ten into a young woman at age twenty. Wise for her years, Vanessa reveals much about the adult world in which she lives.

"Vanessa rebels against the dominance of age; she watches [her grandfather] imitate her aunt Edna; and her rage at times is such that she would gladly kick him. It takes great skill to keep this story within the expanding horizon of this young girl and yet make it so revealing of the adult world."—Atlantic

"A Bird in the House achieves the breadth of scope which we usually associate with the novel (and thereby is as psychologically valid as a good novel), and at the same time uses the techniques of the short story form to reveal the different aspects of the young Vanessa." —Kent Thompson, The Fiddlehead

"I am haunted by the women in Laurence's novels as if they really were alive—and not as women I've known, but as women I've been."—Joan Larkin, Ms. Magazine

"Not since . . . To Kill a Mockingbird has there been a novel like this. It should not be missed by anyone who has a child or was a child."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One of Canada's most accomplished writers, Margaret Laurence (1926-87) was the recipient of many awards including Canada's prestigious Governor General's Literary Award on two separate occasions, once for The Diviners.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:38 -0400)

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