The Birds on the Trees, Paperback Book

The Birds on the Trees Paperback

Part of the Virago Modern Classics series

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


The expulsion from school of their eldest son shatters the middle-class secutiry of Maggie, a writer, and Charlie, a journalist.

Since childhood, Toby has been diffident and self-absorbed, but the threat of drug taking and his refusal (or inability) to discuss his evident unhappiness, disturbs them sufficiently to seek professional help.

Veering between private agony and public cheerfulness, Maggie and Charlie struggle to support their son and cope with the reactions- and advice- of friends and relatives.

Noted for the acuity with which she reaches into the heart of relationships, Nina Bawden here excels in revealing the painful, intimate truths of a family in crisis.

Toby's situation is explored with great tenderness, while Maggie's grief and self-recrimination are rigorously, if compassionately, observed.

It is a novel that raises fundamental questions about parents and their children, and offers tentative hope but no tidy solutions.


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Apparently Toby is a troubled teen (I think somewhere in the book it says he's 19, but then why is he getting kicked out of school at that old age?). His parents, Maggie and Charlie, don't really know what to do with him, but they get all sorts of comments and suggestions from their friends and family. This short novel is told from a variety of different character's points of view, but we never hear from Toby himself.This novel started out very strong, but then fizzled into I don't know what. There are some well written and interesting bits, but overall it seemed rather pointless. Everyone is worried about Toby, but I couldn't see him actually doing anything extreme. I know lots of people who were asked to leave school and who smoked pot but still went on to become tax paying law abiding citizens with jobs and mortgages and children. And unlike Toby, none of them ended up in the psych ward of a hospital being treated for suspected schizophrenia that had been brought on by experimentation with marijuana and LSD.In 2008, the people at the Booker Prize came up with an award called the Lost Booker so that they could honour some books published in 1970 that had missed out due to a rule change at that time. The Birds on the Trees was one of those Lost Booker nominees. I can't understand why, as I think it's dated, and not in a good Jane Austen-Virginia Woolf sort of way.

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