Rain Birds

Harriet McKnight

Rain Birds
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Rain Birds

Harriet McKnight

Alan and Pina have lived contentedly in isolated - and insular - Boney Point for thirty years. Now they are dealing with Alan’s devastating early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis. As he is cast adrift in the depths of his own mind, Pina is left to face the consequences alone, until the arrival of a flock of black cockatoos seems to tie him, somehow, to the present.

Nearby, conservation biologist Arianna Brandt is involved in a project trying reintroduce the threatened glossy black cockatoos into the wilds of Murrungowar National Park. Alone in the haunted bush, and with her birds failing to thrive, Arianna’s personal demons start to overwhelm her and risk undoing everything.

At first, when the two women’s paths cross, they appear at loggerheads but - in many ways - they are invested in the same outcome but for different reasons.

Ultimately, unexpected events will force them both to let go of their pasts and focus on the future.

Review

Pina and Alan have lived in Boney Point, a town in rural East Gippsland, for decades. When Alan develops early-onset dementia, the fiercely independent Pina struggles to give up her life to care for the husband she barely recognises anymore. As Alan’s illness approaches crisis point, a flock of rare glossy black cockatoos make their home in the wilderness behind Pina and Alan’s land. Alan is mesmerised by the birds, and Pina becomes convinced they are somehow significant to his rapidly changing identity.

Nearby, researcher Arianna is also watching the cockatoos. She has bred these birds in captivity, and is both professionally and personally invested in their successful repopulation of the area. When they leave the designated nesting zone she has spent months preparing, Arianna’s anxiety spins out of control. She tracks the birds obsessively, eventually discovering they have moved to Pina’s and Alan’s land. Arianna and Pina clash; Arianna insists Pina shoo the cockatoos away, but Pina can’t see the sense in Arianna’s refusal to let nature be. As the tension between the two women simmers, summer grows fiercer, the bush dries out, and hot winds whip through Boney Point.

Writing landscape is something Australian authors famously do well. In her debut novel, Rain Birds, Harriet McKnight has continued in this tradition. While capturing rural Victoria’s beauty, she intertwines its hostility with the development of her characters and narrative. This is one of the reasons I loved this book. There is always something dangerous just under the surface, and whether it’s fire, ostracisation from other people, violence, or mental anguish, McKnight treats it with the same touch. Rain Birds is the kind of novel you will feel keenly, and think about for weeks after you’ve finished reading. McKnight is a writer to watch.


Ellen Cregen works as a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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