Stephen Leslie France
on May 27, 2014 :
It’s been a while since I read a book predominated by narration; this however did not prevent me from thoroughly appreciating both the plot and character development, or perhaps more accurately phrased the character design and supporting stories in Stillbird.
This profound fable is set at a period of time and location I have never studied so I would summarise my reading experience as educational, entertaining, tragic and disturbing.
In overview, the story’s subtlety in the narrative style that introduces us to awful scenes in human interaction reminded me of Khaled Hosseini’s writing; his prose also had a similar method whereby a calm tone and voice were used that surprised me when I came upon a scene of intense unpleasantness. This ‘frankness’ in Stillbird’s narrative forced an acceptance of the dreadful events as if they were standard practice, and it was this particular device that contributed to the overall horror of what was occurring with the protagonists.
To highlight some memorable themes and ideas in the book:
1) You capture the grim reality of hereditary psychological traits and behavioural patterns through Abel’s despicable actions yet as a detached party, the reader is compelled to question the unthinkable – the idea that due to Abel’s upbringing, he had no real option in maturing into the dreadful man he becomes. Further, the audience is presented with a choice over forgiveness toward Abel for his conduct and/or comprehension of his deplorable manner.
2) My enjoyment of the text slowed slightly at John’s story, but was reignited with Ada’s tale, due to the fact that a character living to the age of 100 is always an intriguing feat; usually governed by the fact that the individual has some unfinished mission that is so powerful, it literally keeps them alive – we discover that this is indeed the case at her knowledge of John’s death and her closure over his fate leading to her immediate passing.
3) I am always pleased when a book evokes strong feelings about a character, whether it be positive or negative – I took an immediate dislike to Rose’s/Sharon’s character in The Mary Queen of Scots segment, though I would be interested to know how other readers received her. I felt intensely about her lack of decency and disregard for people’s emotions, but was compelled to read on due to my own fierce disdain toward characters that manipulate people’s emotions. I found it interesting that you used ‘innocence’ and ‘sophistication’ as arguably binary opposites when describing Rose’s maturity. The challenge I found here was in the activity of defining her character – is this feminine liberalism? Is her behaviour something to be celebrated and admired? Is she breaking the eternal chains of male dominance? I would like to see it this way, but I cannot help but think there are more dignified ways for a female to overpower the shackles of masculine supremacy and misogyny - she made for a complicated character that I have often seen throughout English literature - 'the untamed female' - great for the drama aspect of the book.
I suppose a noticeable contrast is the immense differences between Stillbird and Rose – they are on opposite ends of a spectrum, yet Stillbird had a much more subtle and admirable strength to me – of course, I detested what she was forced to endure though.
4) The absolute horror of what befalls Rose’s daughter Mary levelled my stomach with dread. Rose’s chaotic behaviour appeared to damn everyone around her and there is no doubt in my mind that the character who received the most punishment, was Mary. Here again, the prose was so subtle, and in its calm tone, I was obliged to reread several times before I digested what was happening – I was in disbelief that a man—Rose’s husband and Mary’s father—who seemed like a good, honourable soldier could become so warped, however, I’m fully aware that such a transition is very possible.
The nature of such an aberration definitely provoked sickness, but maintained my intrigue.
The concept of reincarnation raised by the ‘clairvoyant’ in Mary’s story is a challenging subject area and it definitely hit a complex theory when it was suggested that James, Mary’s son and the offspring of her own father was the reincarnated version of Abel. ‘Horrible’, ‘confusing’, and ‘sad’ are words that spring to mind at this phenomenon. James has integrity, honesty and decency – it just seems like there is no balance in the idea that a man is punished for the sins of a previous life, but therein lies the perplexity in the notion.
Concluding, an enjoyable read that inspires many questions.
(review of free book)