An English Guide to Birdwatching – a novel by Nicholas Royle



My previous review of this author’s novel QUILT:


When I review this novel, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below….

31 thoughts on “An English Guide to Birdwatching – a novel by Nicholas Royle

  1. PART ONE: The Undertaking



    What a brilliant knotty start and what a brilliant name for a parlous funeral parlour in Croydon. For the record, I lived in Purley and Coulsdon from 1971 to 1994. Factor that fact into my forthcoming gestalt real-time review of what, to my eyes, looks to be one of those great novels I NEED to read, following my recent review of Coe’s Number Eleven HERE. And I also love this opening’s tussling with the sleep season quote from Macbeth. Oops, said it now.
    The south coast retiring funeralists leaving the firm to their suddenly ungay son was also brilliant.
    Crystal Palace, notwithstanding.


    “For someone who had never really published anything, he was becoming surprisingly known.”

    I know the feeling.
    This section, too, apparently disconnected from the previous section, is surprisingly and delightfully easy to flow through with the reading eye, despite its tentacular sophistication, an al dente texture, a literary exercise where Trumpish tweets, I guess, become “celebrated aphorisms”, with mentions of writers I love like TS Eliot and Lawrence Durrell and Dickens, and people appearing like Russell Brand whom I don’t love. I can’t cover all its ground about Stephen Osmer and his life, his literary ambitions and failures, his girl friend, and after the funeral parlour opening in the previous section, his premature death, it seems, after writing a significant sentence or entering upon a sentence, sentenced to perhaps debating forever about who lived in Doughty Street, and, like Seasons in Shakespeare, about doughty’s other meanings.
    There is so much In this relatively short section of text, it could be the whole novel. And now I look forward – maybe tomorrow – to reading something Osmer wrote before he died. Well, everything he wrote was written before he died.

    “…into the blinking light and drizzle, the song of thrushes and blackbirds,…”


    “On the contrary, I believe that the current surges in nationalist feeling and self-regard, in England and elsewhere, are toxic to the core.”

    Read this essay, before you die. It is uncanny.
    I also creased up like a fold in a painting.
    I cannot comment beyond a possible spoiler: my review of FIRST NOVEL and first novel QUILT in the real-time of 2013 now clinched by a hindsight gestalt. But does hindsight ever end? And have you also read my review in the last few days of ‘The Kestrel and the Hawk’? And did you know my favourite writer is Elizabeth Bowen and I have long had a website here dedicated to her? Better than either of these whammy authors.
    When I mentioned Coe above, whose novel I real-timed so very recently, I had no idea he was also mentioned in this essay.


    “In the twilight of your life there’s no going back.”

    Well, quite incredible, how much of this brilliantly expressed portrait of the couple’s retirement from Croydon to the seaside reflects our own from Croydon to the seaside, except we weren’t in the funeral parlour business. There are many home truths and recognisable homilies of wisdom here, including the ambiance of the seaside mirroring my own encroachment of age in mind as well as body. And only teenage vampires at the cinema.
    The mixture of mockery and affection between us also can be likened to “loving irritation” in Number Eleven. Another neat synchronicity. En pointe.


    Leading from Jekyll & Hyde, in this the next Stephen Osmer section, I am rather excited to read about the concept set out here of a ‘hide’ being placed within a novel.
    Am I ground-breaking in now thinking of bird ‘hides’ in literary criticism or book reviewing?
    My review of ‘First Novel’ and ‘Quilt’ in January 2013 was my very first review, since I started gestalt real-time reviews in 2008, where I actually placed each episode of a review piecemeal in the comment stream rather that in the body of a blog post. I have now been able retrocausally to create a ‘hide’ here in that review:
    Also, amused by description of the emotions while two men pee next to each other in the urinals. And, separately, the most cringing experience in life of being a GROUP’s visitor from Porlock. We all have done it.
    This book gets even better and better. Hope it lasts.


    “This was a town that had, he knew, voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union.”

    Brexit, in fact – a wordplay in itself, a sort of frog-like bird in the bulrushes?
    Stephen Osmer is in Great Yarmouth on a ‘thinker’ sabbatical. (I live in a similar seaside town that had the only UKIP MP until recently.) He is skimming his ‘glider”, in his hotel room, glider being a near anagram of a reading device (not a tablet of stone or otherwise), reading about the 2008 crash. Earlier, we watched Stephen in interface with a celebrity author, Stephen himself having a nervous breakdown about the word ‘Adlestrop’. There is so much to learn about our Stephen. So much to learn about me by examining what things from this text I do not mention in this review of it. Most book reviews are previews: mine is a real review. And gestalt, although a completist conceit, does not need every item to be mentioned to demonstrate that it exists. Nor a dream to be caught needs every forgotten element that was once dreamed in it. Forgive my slightly mind-blurring nearness to 70.

  7. CRYPT

    “She worried that Silas was becoming withdrawn. She knew well enough that retirement could make you ripe for depression.”

    Back to the twilit Woodlocks at the seaside. Engaging stuff.
    He joins a writer’s group. While, to keep my own sanity, I write real-time reviews like this:
    Not to mention the gulls.
    My own dying wish is not to be buried but disseminated on-line. Have already committed ‘seaside’, by the way.
    (Sending stuff by post with saes seems literally to date this Woodlock thread.)


    “Her final dissertation at college was on the subject of hoaxes in media and culture.”

    “real-time online events”

    We learn more of Steve Osmer’s girl friend, Lily Lynch, from both their points of view. Loved the dinner menu and ‘Farmaggedon’ concerns as wordplay and the imagined conversation about ‘cinematic intentions’ and Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy. The latter has underpinned my whole cerebral life since the late 1960s, for example, my editing and publishing of
    NEMONYMOUS (Journal of Parthenogenetic Fiction and Late-Labelling) from 2001 to 2010. And my own Film Director’s Commentaries upon my own fiction as a way to sidestep or body-swerve the intentional fallacy. Each book is seven-eighths (bird-)hidden, perhaps?
    And a typo that need not be a typo at all:-
    “Stephen’s attention was drifting – off somewhere between lust for Lily and the return of the rage…”


    “…the silent thoughts and feelings that two people might share in response to something on a screen.”

    Unlike the Royle family’s outspoken gogglebox style, this is a rather better and splendid exercise in accessibly Joycean “subliminal code.”
    I wonder if Sylvie (and thus the Woodlocks) has or will have some connection with Lily (and thus Osmer)? Lily is planning a visit to the south coast, I gather, for a party.


    “He was happy to be the loner.”

    IMG_3322Laughed out loud at the golf and golf ball syndromes…
    I continue to identify my situation – if not in all aspects – with Silas and Ethel Woodlock retired in Seaford, beset by weather worries, herring gulls, going to bed both of us with earphones (and these days a pair of iPads in my world) … and discovering ‘Ornithology’ a collection of uncanny stories by Nicholas Royle ….
    Omniscience is neatly withdrawn from the narrative regarding the book Silas finds. And I still do not fully understand the significance of that or Ornithology. Not sure if this is a time zone slightly skew whiff from ours…
    I show here a painting by Will Burnet from 1965, a woman in bed with an iPad…


    “And then, too, there is the person who is indeed not listening to you, but to the conversation over your shoulder…”

    …as if looking for the Road to Porlock, not Damascus. Or a different sexual orientation? This is the section that, if I knew about it before reading it, would be famous as the bit where the author as the Literary Theorist Nicholas Royle feels he is ‘irreal’ within the pages of a novel, watching his wife and Lily Lynch in a Clinch. I found it successfully concupiscent, too, extending my own looking over the shoulder of the novel itself towards one of its own embedded bird-hides. Or dreaming of Literary theory shaped by dense textured expressionism, skirting, inter alios, debt analysis in a long list of the accoutrements of the banking crisis, a mixture of pretentiousness (in a good way) and someone writing about suicide (seaside?), a party like a backed-up drain, and the added complication that Royle’s wife’s on-going affair is with Steve Osmer’s girl friend, you know, the same Osmer who wrote Double Whammy! I, for one, also thought the reference to Bowen was to my favourite author. Then Sir Thomas Wyatt, once a favourite poet. Thanks for the reminder. And a cheek caress like the touch of the wing of a bird? Henry James as well as Joyce? Except some birds can be pretty rough! The triangulation of love, a gestalt with growing coordinates.

  12. GULLS

    “…in full sight of the party-pooper.”

    Or party-Porlocker, I’d say!
    Later, a party-popper. A cataclysmic one.
    The ‘extraordinary rendition’ of the two threads of this book meeting up at this point in the plot – like a piece of Messiaen music that evolves with many possible avenues of birdsong plagiarism possible – is impossible to recount here without issuing plot spoilers. It seems to be the sort of book (so far, at least) that might change itself into a different plot altogether if it feels you the reviewer had given too much away about its existing plot. This different plot perhaps telling of the author himself turning up at your door – beneath the Essex version of the gulls – so as to kill you for having issued such spoilers in your review!
    Let me hasten to say that the wordplay, the double meanings, the tooting beaks chirping in the guise of semantics, are wonderful. And the short story read aloud by Silas Woodcock from the fictional book (but not the ‘Ornithology’ collection, after all) is alone worth the price of this whole book that contains it.

  13. OBITS

    “We are living at a curiously awful time.”

    You can say that again. And he does.
    Even Nigel Farage is mentioned.
    During the obits aftermath of the previous section where I feared my own death for real-timing my literary criticism as if on a mobile or Tweeting like Trump, not crafting my words, as well as my possibly issuing spoilers. And I fear even more about a character in this book or the author himself or his doppelgänger coming to my house to lethally punish me for my naive involvement in the financial world while living in the Croydon area under Thatcher, and the pension I now get for those pains. A pension that allows me to buy such books as this one! The gestalt is greater than the sins or good deeds within it, I claim.
    This a remarkable essay by Osmer. Within a remarkable novel, a potentially important novel for our times. Important in its literary methods as well as in its perceived content. Seriously. Slavoj Žižek, notwithstanding. Talionic Counterpartism, too. Like.


    “A wing and a, what was that phrase? A wing and a…”

    An adeptly, disarmingly, almost refreshingly, disconnectedly deadpan, quiet and telling coda to the tale of Silas and Ethel by the committed seaside. It made me dwell on my own seaside images and scenes (scroll down forever here:
    The distressed baby gull also reminded me of the peacock that recently spent some time in my garden…

    IMG_3097 IMG_3336

    “She told him as much.”

  15. PART TWO: The Hides

    HIDE 1

    I consider this convoluted and manically syllogistic philosophical treatise about the various meanings of the word ‘hide’ a Talionic punishment worse than death for my having the effrontery of expressing premature thoughts about the preceding novel as part of my real-time gestalt mode of book reviewing under the retrocausal misapprehension that this so-called ‘Part Two’ is intrinsic to that very novel, a novel that I can now see finished with ‘Ethel’s Wharf’.

  16. HIDE 2

    “…or that the word or line, initially believed finished, has stopped short, or else grown overlong…”

    The trials and tribulations of writing inside a bird-hide, variations on that sometimes dangerous theme, including “lethal enthusiasm”, and my paranoia that I am still being punished for entering this bird-hide and started writing about what I observed rather than simply observing. (I have been inside bird-hides in the past with my wife and/or daughter, and know of what I speak.)

  17. HIDES 3, 4 & 5

    “, birds killing themselves in a frenzied attempt to kill you,”

    Included is a longish prose-edgy palimpsest of Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963 and the original story by du Maurier in 1952, inside a bird hide where I am !
    There’s a disturbing pattern evolving here? A wing and a…?

  18. HIDES 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10

    “It is not so much a pre-built hide as a hide we make as we go along.”

    …as I do in gestalt real-time reviewing?
    But here I feel accused of “word-botching” rather than just “word-hunting”. And some other word I cannot mention here, with reference to ‘chicken’ and ‘child’! This is a tangled road towards my victimisation and come-uppance, via photo blinds and oubliettes, plus a concept known as ornithomorphism as a variation on anthropomorphism. There is a close examination of various proverbs and semantics via wordplay with some painful puns unworthy even of Rhys Hughes. There is mention of some vocalisations of birdcalls, but not Brexit Brexit Brexit (while it’s elephants that trump and frogs that brekekex co-ax co-ax.)

  19. HIDE 11

    “But she is not in a novel. She is in a hide.”

    But perhaps Penelope Menace IS in a novel, if these hides are part of this novel that they append as fillers or bonus tracks. But they are more than just that, particularly Hide 11, and it would be the eleventh that would strike me thus, tellingly so. Tales that tell of madness. Here there is a paragraph I would like to quote as a whole, as the potential core of this novel, but the author and publisher would probably frown at that, and I have already only survived this far by the skin of my teeth. It is a paragraph that communicates Death as like being in a Bird-Hide, as nearest to being in the ‘best’ place to spot Death’s final twitch, or so I read it. Here, too, we have a “blue notebook”, a William James quote concerning the Stream of Conscious, Monty Python’s dead parrot as an alternative to a dodo. And a cornucopia of other literary, philosophical, synaesthetic ornithological and pornographical references. And the final twitch of recognition of self as someone else.

    “It would make all the borders of the text dissolve.”

  20. HIDES 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 & 17

    Hi Des, it says.
    From Hardy’s “near-death recollection of earliest childhood”, that first twitch of the last twitch, and a hide as a remembered oubliette, “this kind of memory, a fugitive place,…”, and a hide as ‘audio-booth’ as well as photo blind, recorded a bit like Pinkie’s own scratchy articulation in Brighton of birdcall repeated (dead as a roc?), a latter day matinée on terrestrial TV of Carry On Carrion, or did I read that earlier in this book?
    “And let us add a jizz to jazz”, I am now convinced the two Royles come from the same family of one. And the only reference, here at book’s end, to the novel proper is a reference to the Woodcock in Shakespeare. The Dickens reference to the “great explosion” in Seaford, notwithstanding. There is no gestalt-clinching hide or hindsight (can hindsight ever end?) to make this great novel an even greater novel, if that were possible. I would have appreciated some telling narration with the endgame of Steve Osmer. But there is nothing. What a disappointment. We are left up in the air.
    And, at ‘best’, i-bis, i-jizz, the undertaker’s undertaking of hidden, hideous death’s last or first twitch.


  21. Pingback: The Trance of Reading | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s