Book Review: A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes
A young woman and her brother return to their abandoned home and an unsolved family mystery in this slow burn of a debut novel.
In the scorching summer of 1976, Robyn spends her days swimming at the Lido and tagging after her brother. It’s the perfect holiday – except for the crying women her mum keeps bringing home.
As the heatwave boils on, tensions in the town begin to simmer. Everyone is gossiping about her mum, a strange man is following her around, and worst of all, no one will tell Robyn the truth. But this town isn’t good at keeping secrets…
Twelve years later, Robyn returns home, to a house that has stood empty for years and a town that hasn’t moved on, forced to confront the mystery that haunted her that summer.
And atone for the part she played in it.
Told from the perspective of Robyn, the Little Bird of the title, and switching between the 1976 heatwave and the siblings’ return twelve years later in 1988, A Little Bird Told Me takes its own sweet time in unravelling the mystery at the heart of this story.
This is in part due to the fact that Robyn is our narrator and, while she may return as a twenty-one year old, she was only nine when the events of 1976 took place. Robyn has repressed memories as well as a skewed vision of what happened due to her age and the fact that others protected her from what was going on at the time. In retrospect, this was probably misguided on their part even if it was done for all the best reasons, but it all feeds into how unreliable she is as a narrator and how slow she is to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
That said, I would have liked to have had a few more breadcrumbs scattered throughout the book to help me keep faith that there would be some better resolution than the path of vengeance Robyn seems set upon when the book opens.
The pace of the narrative is languid at times but this sits well with the lethargy felt throughout that summer of 1976. It also serves to illustrate how small-town life doesn’t always make it easy for you to move on from past events but instead stagnates around them. Robyn finds it difficult to start over here, in contrast to her older brother, Kit, who is admittedly more interested in putting the past behind him and getting on with his life.
Where I enjoyed A Little Bird Told Me the most was in its descriptive passages as I traced grown-up Robyn’s walks around town, the part Eva and Neil played in the siblings’ story, together with the relationship between her and Kit in the 1988 sections. And in 1976 it was in the details of a small town in a heatwave, that childhood summer spent around the Lido, Robyn’s friendship with Debbie, and the part those ubiquitous bullies, the WendyCarols, played in Little Bird’s story. This debut’s well worth a read.
A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes is published by Agora Books, part of the Peters, Fraser & Dunlop literary and talent agency. Available as an audiobook, ebook and in paperback, you can find it at Amazon UK or buy it through Hive and support your local independent bookshop. For more on the author, check out her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.