Tor Udall: A Thousand Paper Birds
Published By: Bloomsbury Circus
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
Jonah roams Kew Gardens trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life after the death of his wife, Audrey. Weathering the seasons and learning to love again, he meets Chloe, an enigmatic origami artist who is hesitant to let down her own walls.
In the gardens he also meets ten-year-old Milly, and Harry, a gardener, both of whom have secrets of their own to keep – and mysteries to solve.
What I Say:
“Perhaps,” says Jonah, ‘love is when you hold on to something and fall through the air. You don’t know if you’re flying or falling – ‘
‘Until you crash,’ she says.
I have to tell you straight away that I had no intention of blogging about A Thousand Paper Birds. I had it on my Reading Pile, one that is just for me, so I don’t put myself under any pressure by promising reviews when sometimes all I want to do is read.
The thing is, when you start reading a novel like A Thousand Paper Birds, it needs to be shouted about, recommended and pushed into the hands of anyone who has ever known what it is to love or be loved.
Jonah’s wife Audrey has passed away. He understands how important Kew Gardens was to her, and so as well as arranging for a bench dedicated to her to be installed, Jonah spends many hours roaming the gardens in an attempt to feel closer to her. While he is there, he meets Chloe, a young artist who is passionate about origami, and as they start to form a connection, Jonah finds himself feeling conflicted about opening his heart to someone else whilst the presence of Audrey is everywhere.
Harry has dedicated his life to working in Kew Gardens, and works tirelessly to ensure that it stays as beautiful as he can make it. Milly is a typical ten-year old, energetic, inquisitive and seemingly fearless. Jonah encounters them on his trips to Kew, and as he starts to try to get over his devastating loss, Chloe, Henry and Milly all provide him with different things he needs to help him move forward.
So far so straightforward? Sounds like a feel good novel that will have Jonah, Chloe, Harry and Milly living happily ever after?
A Thousand Paper Birds will not give you a formulaic feel good, tick box neat story. It is so much more than that. It is a complex and passionate novel about what love is, what it means, and the lengths we will go to in that elusive search for happiness. It tackles many different issues, such as death, grief, what it means to be a parent, and what dying means for those who are left behind.
One of the many things I loved about the novel are the characters who inhabit Kew Gardens. Jonah is a grieving husband, but he is not a model of decorum and mourning. He attempts to forget about Audrey by sleeping with numerous women, trying to find a way back to some sort of normality that will start him living his life again. Chloe is the same, brittle and wary of forming any connection that will make her confront her past and what she has witnessed. For me, that made the novel even better – I want real, relatable people, who react in ways that I can understand, and make me want to see them find the resolution they need.
Harry and Milly initially seem always to be just on the edge of Jonah and Chloe’s world, but they in fact are so pivotal to their lives, that without them, they will not be able to move past the grief they both hold inside. Page by page, chapter by chapter, Harry and Milly move from the background of Kew, into the centre of the plot, and we start to understand exactly why they are there, and so interested in Jonah and Chloe.
All the time, the magnificent and stately Kew Gardens weaves its way through the story. Most of the novel takes place here, and like an all-seeing and all-knowing entity, it holds the key to why all the characters are drawn here. The ethereal quality that Kew has, provides the perfect backdrop, as the novel progresses and we start to understand that all is not what it seems. All the time, Kew is there, bringing people in to its heart and holding them there until they are ready to move on.
Audrey is the link between all these characters, and like them, before she died, she too was dealing with her own grief. Unable to carry a child to full term, she and Jonah move further apart as they bluster through their daily lives, never really talking about their marriage, or how sad they feel. Like all the people in A Thousand Paper Birds, Audrey is not held up as a paragon of virtue. She is increasingly drawn to Harry, wondering whether their shared love of nature and gardening is a solid enough foundation to risk her ending her marriage to Jonah.
However, as we know, Audrey dies, and leaves behind her four people who are trying to make sense of what has happened. When Chloe stumbles on Audrey’s diary, explaining her feelings towards Jonah and her growing attraction to Harry, she knows she has stumbled on something which will blow apart their lives and ultimately risk her own growing relationship with Jonah.
As the novel moves seamlessly towards its conclusion, there are subtle clues, which become more and more blatant, and finally reveal to us who Harry and Milly are, and Audrey’s involvement in their lives. I could tell you what it means, but as you know by now, I am not going to ruin it for you.
All I will say is that A Thousand Paper Birds is a beautifully poignant, poetic and courageous novel. Tor eloquently deals with many themes in a unique, almost magical way. It is a book that I didn’t want to finish, and had to think about how on earth I was going to be able to articulate this review to convey its power and tenderness about love, life and death.
If you haven’t read A Thousand Paper Birds yet, I would urge you to add it to your reading list immediately. Savour it, fall in love with Tor Udall’s wonderful writing and the Kew Gardens inhabitants, and appreciate your loved ones and the time you spend with them.
I loved it.