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The Language of Birds: the novel inspired by the Lord Lucan affair

Jill Dawson

9 Reviews

Rated 0

London, Greater London, c 1970 to c 1980, True crime, Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

A hypnotic and thought-provoking novel inspired by the sensational Lord Lucan case, by the Orange Prize-shortlisted author of FRED & EDIE.

Drawing on the infamous Lord Lucan affair, this compelling novel explores the roots of a shocking murder from a fresh perspective and brings to vivid life an era when women's voices all too often went unheard.

In the summer of 1974, Mandy River arrives in London to make a fresh start and begins working as nanny to the children of one Lady Morven. She quickly finds herself in the midst of a bitter custody battle and the house under siege: Lord Morven is having his wife watched. According to Lady Morven, her estranged husband also has a violent streak, yet she doesn't seem the most reliable witness. Should Mandy believe her?

As Mandy edges towards her tragic fate, her friend Rosemary watches from the wings - an odd girl with her own painful past and a rare gift. This time, though, she misreads the signs.

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Praise for The Language of Birds: the novel inspired by the Lord Lucan affair

  • Mandy is a gorgeous creation, a character so warm and vivid you half wish you could take her out for a drink . . . Dawson is good at delineating class, particularly as it manifested itself in the '70s, when the clenched '50s and the new world of the '60s were still in a fight to the death: every detail is perfect, from children's toys to mealtimes . . . it's impossible to tire of Mandy, or of Neville, the West Indian man with whom she falls in love - Observer, Book of the Day

  • In a class of its own . . . A glimmeringly intelligent, vital and compassionate exploration of nature,

  • nurture and female desire, it also taps a deep vein of anger and sorrow at the fate of innumerable abused and murdered women. Timely, devastating and superbly realised. - Daily Mail

  • Poignant and heartbreaking. - Cosmopolitan

  • [Dawson has] an extraordinary facility with language and mood . . . her unsettling novel combines the suspense of a thriller and a haunting sense of melancholy with none of the queasy excess of the true crime genre. - Catherine Taylor, Financial Times - Financial Times

  • Gripping . . . This dazzling novel combines the pace of a thriller with moving, poetic writing. - Good Housekeeping Book of the Month

  • The complex intersections of the mother-baby-nanny triangle and the loneliness of childcare are beautifully depicted . . .The narrative's progress towards the terrifying evening in the dark basement kitchen has the ineluctable pull of tragic myth. We know what must come, but this knowledge never detracts from the memorable beauty and intelligence of the novel. By focussing on the victim, Dawson allows us to completely rethink the original story in a way that honours Sandra Rivett's short life. - Sofka Zinovieff, Guardian

  • Highly engrossing . . . Dawson gives powerful voice to someone silenced in history . . . She delves unflinchingly into themes of domestic violence, mental illness and murder with sensitivity and skill. Her greatest achievement is to make Mandy live from these pages not only as a victim of murder but as a young woman filled with an energy too cruelly cut short. - Anita Sethi, The i

  • Lady Morven and Mandy are superbly drawn . . . a sensitive and often beautifully written novel - Jake Kerridge, Daily Telegraph

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Jill Dawson

Jill Dawson was born in Durham. She is the author of three novels: Trick of the Light, Magpie and Fred & Edie, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize and translated into several languages. She is also an award-winning poet and has edited five anthologies, including Wild Ways: New Stories about Women on the Road (co-edited with Margo Daly), The Virago Book of Wicked Verse and the recent Gas and Air: Tales of Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond. She taught at Amherst College and is currently the Creative Writing Fellow at University of East Anglia in Norwich. She lives in the Fens with her partner and two sons.

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