MURMURATIONS: Edited by Nicholas Royle

An Anthology of Uncanny Stories About Birds


My previous reviews of Nicholas Royle books HERE

Stories by Adam Marek, Claire Massey, Bruce Gilbert, Anna Kavan, Emma Jane Unsworth, Joel Lane, Alison Moore, Russell Hoban, Elizabeth Stott, Tom Fletcher, Regi Claire, Jack Trevor Story, Neil Campbell, David Rose, Deborah Kermode, Mark Valentine, Bill Broady, Juliet West, Conrad Williams, Adèle Geras, Socrates Adams-Florou, RB Russell, Nicholas Royle, Marc Werner, GA Pickin, Michael Kelly, Geeta Roopnarine, Stephen Bacon, Laura Ellen Joyce, Daphne du Maurier.

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

36 thoughts on “MURMURATIONS: Edited by Nicholas Royle

  1. Swallows Sleep in Winter by Adam Marek

    ‘There’s one,’ Sam said.
    ‘There’ll be lots more.’ Ted swallowed. ‘Give it time.’

    Hey, I saw the funnel of swallows myself, hibernating in the river. Where did I see them? In this story, not a far-fetched place in my own mind, but in this very story. And I saw Ted, the father-in-law of Sam, together with Sam himself, having an elaborate picnic by the river when it happened. This story really made me see these things and more. And I learnt about Sam’s worries on having a second child with Ted’s daughter, when their first child turned out the way it did. Two direct hits of bad luck would prove it was not bad luck at all. Ted wants another grandchild, though. It’s worth scrying over spilt milk. And they use the stones on the bed of the river as swallows of it as if it had never been spilt? That last part is from my mind, not from this story. But the story made me think it. Made me think creatively. Only good stories can do that for me.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  2. For the True Anatomy by Claire Massey

    “None had skulls.”

    Not grasped this time from the bottom of a river, but from deep in a sandpit where Sarah’s energetic younger sister is playing. Sarah’s still a young girl herself. (A Lake District holiday, settling into the holiday cottage, feathers in her bedroom drawers, parents take them moorland walking, bird skeletons, oblique mysteries in short order.) A printed message physically absorbed from somewhere in this story, or from this book’s gestalt (as I infer to be a possibility), and Sarah becomes someone’s yearned for healthy cherub elsewhere, or even becomes her own rudely healthy sister after she flies away? The opposite of changeling, because there was never anything to be changed from? The only true anatomy is none? (cf Sarah to the previous story’s Charlie?)

    ‘It’s OK, Mum. I’ll empty it.’

    My previous reviews of this author: (FEATHER GIRLS and BIRD DOLL)

  3. Sliding off the World by Bruce Gilbert

    Astonishingly, a few minutes ago I read and reviewed this story by Shearman in another Royle anthology. This short short by Gilbert is in very scary synergy with it. Read them together, and see!

  4. The Gannets by Anna Kavan

    “…no longer diving or searching the waves but planing portentously towards us with infrequent wing strokes.”

    …and there is something threatening about that, unstoppable, too. Like asking the child in the previous story whether it can hear the owl or telling it a scary story that must come true. Here, on a lonely local seashore, amid du Maurier type gannets hovering over hovel children, here where you live, stumble though you have on a stretch of its unexpected terrain, and it is all a bit like a Middle Eastern terrain that you might imagine, but here is a vision you believe. Not even any Trump can halt such inevitability with his off the wall and disequlibriating tweets — is the moral you take from this work. Sliding off the world.

  5. Fight or Flight by Emma Jane Unsworth

    “Whenever she caught sight of herself, slouched down in her seat, her jacket puffed up around her chin, Laura reminded herself of a baby bird sheltering on a branch.”

    Any reflection will do? Or one letter to change a whole meaning (‘L’ for aileron?)
    Here, we follow Laura regularly visiting her Dad who has estranged himself from her and her mother. A poignant mix of failings and successes, like all people, he finally gains her admiration when replacing a baby goldfinch high in its nest, his hand direct to nest. Just as in the future, when visiting the premature baby of her friend, Laura sees its purple hand open and shut. A telling connection within the story and with the Marek and the Massey above.

    My previous review of this author:

  6. Birds of Prey by Joel Lane

    My Joel Lane Page here:
    And I have already reviewed this story when I first read it in 2015 as part of his posthumous collection ‘Scar City’ here: and what I wrote then is as follows….

    “I used to watch him moving over me, his eyes shut, flying.”

    The trials and tribulations of sex, in the characters’ past and present, are conveyed here for two music students, where using an instrument is not just in playing the music, but also by mutually strumming or scraping as with a bow. The past has come retributively to haunt one of them, but also lending premonitory dreams to the other student, a cross-cruising of night’s motor-bikers and birds of prey, and eventually a frozen tableau in a museum’s backroom.
    A strong story that deploys its images like playing instruments of “alcohol, lust and sleep deprivation” in a work physically staccato as if, say, by Xenakis or in tune with this story’s mention of Tchaikovsky (cf Russell’s The Music Lovers) – or with a more traumatic pub gig’s fiddling. This story’s ‘cock’ become a bird of prey…or just prey?

  7. The Egg by Alison Moore

    ‘You’re older than my granddad,’ said the boy, ‘and he’s dead.’

    An old man, collected pastel-coloured birds’ eggs as a boy, and with a mother who collected vinyl records, and I always think shellac is connected with birdshell. He never married and has Tesco deliveries. Meets a boy while bird feeding, daring ambition of garnering a Swan’s egg, an ambition deployed. The result is, well, if I said, that would be breaking the egg before I get it home. A poignant loop of destiny once avoided now crystallised… or cracked? (A potential synergy with ‘The Swimmer’ by SJ Butler…)

    My previous reviews of this author:

  8. The Raven by Russell Hoban

    “How’s it going? I said to it, not speaking aloud, but with my mind.
    Well, you know, said the raven, also not speaking aloud, there’s not a lot happening here.”

    A Crowley KA with a CROW here, but here a RHoban KA with a RAVEN, where tame time is untamed, as the one who writes this also writes a transcendently poetic apotheosis of a real-time gestalt by communing with a Raven imprisoned in a Zoo, hearing, inter alios, a solo cello and then participating in many other feats of history. A woman passerby told her child that the writer, by flapping his arms, might be getting above himself. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. But I hope he was. He took me with him. I was once one of the enchanted crowd of demonstrating chanters that he saw.

  9. The Rhododendron Canopy by Elizabeth Stott

    “One morning, Wren had woken to find the nest dislodged, blue eggs scattered on the lawn, broken, with three scrawny chicks exposed. By the next day, all that had remained of the clutch were fragments of sky blue shell on the grass.”

    Synchronously, this resonates with a similar crucial scene about a bird’s nest, the one in ‘The Good Terrorist’ by Doris Lessing, a novel that I already happen to be reviewing simultaneously here. In many ways, Wren (Irène) is also accretively seen to be a Good Terrorist, too, one recruited to assuage what she sees as the even worse terrorism of a Cat that visits her garden. With meticulous detail upon preparation for her dress and face make-up (later subject to its own ‘damage’ smears), she seems to accept by telephone a visit from someone who turns out to be an inscrutable (to us) Gentleman, with his own dress sense leaving some items to deadpan desire, if that makes any sense at all, let alone a dress sense. It now seems significant that she leaves the Cat’s dead things under the eponymous canopy and yet something else to the churchyard itself, something slightly bigger to be buried, we assume. But something she seems able to carry there. I wonder if the man came to recruit her but whatever-it-was was left unsaid. Perhaps I am the first person to nearly say it? A Lessing in becoming More.

    My previous review of this author:

  10. Huginn and Muninn by Tom Fletcher

    ‘A fifth gait. In between a trot and a canter. It is called a tölt. Would you like to try it?’

    Well-written prose, but I am afraid I could not get on with this horror story about a couple on holiday in Iceland, a man-woman couple on their own who are friends and not an item, as it were. Folklore and pony-trekking and a giant raven and a dead horse, with some switching of alternate worlds, I sense, 87A0ABD0-56C4-4F5F-933C-4B338B110B93where one or both of them now lie dead.
    You may enjoy it better than me. Or at least understand it better than me. Tell me if so.
    Actually, I will be cursed now, I fear. This book’s earlier specialist raven getting its own back. Or one of this story’s ponies!
    As an aside I happen to be simultaneously reviewing here a book with this cover.

  11. When the Red, Red Robin… by Regi Claire

    “Just for fun, she Googled ‘terrorists’.”

    Incredibly, I have just read this short short after, about half an hour ago, having also read, in the strictly due course of my reviewing schedule, another Regi Claire story in another book I happen to be simultaneously real-time reviewing here:
    I had no idea I would then immediately encounter another Regi Claire story here in the strictly due course of my reviewing. Nor how that synchronous act in itself creates a new and more intense meaning for both stories. Also a fine red to taste as well as the red red robin bob bob bobbing along….another cruelty for its own sake.

  12. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | DES LEWIS’ GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

  13. A Nestling by Jack Trevor Story

    For him it was a cry of distress, like the drums of Africa, the hilltop bonfires of threatened Elizabethan England, the smoke signals of the Indians.

    A nine year old boy – despite his elder sister’s ethical strictures about it – is a keen collector and swapper of speckled birds’ eggs, and today, intent on recouping some lost ground with his collection, he stuck up a tree in the fens and, despite the fine view, we allowed to easily empathise with the potential terror of his situation. And the appositeness of the outcome. We are treated to a telling gap (SPOILER) of omniscience and our sense of satisfaction at the instinctive gestalt-manoeuvred rescue of himself by rescuing another…and a Story story well told. A sort of retrocausally musical ‘dying fall’ in tune with a hybrid of Sliding Off The World and the man-boy in Moore’s Egg…?

  14. That man-boy again…sliding off the world…

    Barren Clough by Neil Campbell

    “And for a time he couldn’t see the patterns.”

    Nor could he see what flew from what didn’t. Until he did. Perhaps he always did. And his grandson after him, as he did himself as a boy. Meanwhile, this short inchoate short starts to form patterns in the hinted wilds around my own mind, the ageing man on his tractor amid the snowthaw wilds of his own mind and those around the eponymous land feature. Shoot from the hip, a true local only by dint of many years being there, able to celebrate such an achievement in the pub or by killing the shapes of things he feared, like whatever settled on the pond, or hanging on the washing line, or covering his windows or, now, among the sky’s vast vast blackening wings.

    My reviews of this author:

  15. 4EF52EAC-66A1-4081-81B9-801F715FE586Shrike by David Rose

    “My own personal interest currently is in establishing the possibility of cross-species alteration in morphic resonance. So far it’s been applied only within species — blue tits as an example. What if such alterations in group memory could jump species?
    I’ve been canvassing and collating individual observations for some time. It needs anecdotal evidence to reach a critical mass,…”

    Sorry for quoting so much, but I would love to import some of those expressions into my concept of gestalt real-time reviewing of hyper-imaginative literature. Empirically hawling the Murmurations of shape in the text and the odd vagrant that might prove a future link between genres or styles. The brown shrike syndrome of the fiction panoply. Not to butcher the text, but to enhance it by flowing with it, undissected. We follow the narrator, logging different birds, in a well word-characterised countryside significantly near the orbital M25, perhaps less significantly spotting a girl pushing a pram with thick tyres for all terrains. My research above seems to indicate a brown shrike is more white than brown. And the ending’s description reminds me a bit of the sponge in the pond at the beginning of the previous story. Perhaps another brown shrike to prove, if sadly, a new migratory resonance within a single anthology? But not like the earlier robin that migrated between two separate anthologies! Crueller than the shrike, too.

    “Besides, one vagrant doesn’t make a resonance.”

    My reviews of this author:

  16. The Candling by Deborah Kermode

    “She had felt the man vibrating next to her like a bass string.”

    Since gestalt reviewing Royle’s Ornithology collection just under a year ago here: when I had a synchronous real-time encounter with a strutting peacock, I have had a fear of peacocks and they regularly haunt my dreams. I nearly didn’t read this work but I did and I bit my tongue as I saw this Adam-Eve poisoned apple scenario as Buddhist transformation, one where the strutter becomes the strutted and vice versa, and forbore the literary X-raying of peahean eggs and all the other implications of negative symbiosis and religious sacrifice. But I mostly appreciated the style of expression. I could see it was not a vagrant in this book’s gestalt but an intrinsic part of its sky-streaming funnel of transcendent meaning and of the human mating-dance, rather than its migrating-dance, a mating-dance where deadly poison and healing tonic could also be seen in synergy rather than in eventual mutual destruction.

  17. I read and reviewed the following story in Mark Valentine’s THE PEACOCK ESCRITOIRE here: and below is what I wrote about it in that context…


    A Revelation of Cormorants

    “…perhaps the script might be deciphered and the pale pages of the sands yield up their secrets.”

    Language continues to be writ everywhere, if one can but translate it.  This story contains, in part at least, a neat reminder of the type of protagonist in “Oh, Whistle…” who, now, I feel, is beautifully etched into his quest for nailing (not literally) various birds for his bird-book, by observation and past quotation. I might mention my own ‘The Mentioning’ but Tim Nickels’ substantial masterpiece of the Cormorant (‘Supermarine’) is a better continuo for this song-cycle of divining crows (cf: the first story in this book) as well as of cormorants. The predicament of Valentine’s protagonist reaches a brilliant cliffhanger…and to tell you more of this exquisite story would foul its effect. (20 Feb 11 – four hours later)


    My previous reviews of Mark Valentine’s works:


  18. The Brids by Bill Broady

    ‘There was this robin that kept following us, making a sort of weird choking noise.’

    An insidiously silent story, although there is music in it like Ligeti, Messiaen, Bird’s ‘Klactoveesedstene’ and Miles Davis. A woman who colludes with or cloys to the male narrator as a sort of non-sexual habit, while fending off her various boy friends who ever hover near like broody pigeons. One such boy friend who happens to be an actor in Emmerdale, has a phobia so bad he won’t spell its cause correctly. The fact that she won’t spell spider correctly is perhaps neither here nor there, but she gets a hairdo like Hedren and tries gratuitously to breed more of this boy friend’s phobia under cover of silent overdose. She’s one of the Brids of Frankenstein, I say.

  19. Rarely Visits Gardens by Juliet West

    “The bench under the pergola is pillowed in snow. When I sink down onto it, the snow squeaks.”

    A reliquary accretion alongside birdwatching in her snowbound garden. A woman recently widowed by the sudden tragic death of her husband, perceived to be a visitor to her land. Still residual. As is the Redwing visitor in hindsight, a rare visitor to gardens, alongside a morphed ghost as temptation by man outside and of a baby from within. The sounds though seem inadvertently important, snatched objective-correlatives for reader outside and her within.

  20. All Our Dead Heavens by Conrad Williams

    “The lack of signposts made it hard to work out where we were going…”

    A story of you by me about us, holiday in Mauritius where I used to spend holidays as a child with my parents, a place called Curepipe, but you were just sapping me for my money (from my late father’s estate), the flight there, a triangulation of our coordinates by stars, and a gradual benighted sudden chilling negative symbiosis, you in your bikini, guarding a dead seagull. Perhaps such a gullstalt now seems complete, if obliquely interpretable, having set all that out for you from this brief story about us, and it has caused at least me to know where I was going and where I had just been. Another triangulation, I guess.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  21. Tsipporah by Adèle Geras

    “She wore a headscarf and I was glad of that.”

    This is a delightfully and deceptively simple ghost story in Jerusalem of a girl visiting with her grandma one of the latter’s forbidding friends called Naomi. Not exactly about one of Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘Shadowy Thirds’, but more one of someone else’s Shadowy Birds. Shadowy and white, if that is possible to imagine.

  22. Dead Bird by Socrates Adams-Florou

    An audit trail of a dead bird, its stand-up comedy and chaos theory onward,
    My own photographic image of an endlessly stretched-out ‘dead bird bounce’ linked (with a warning) from here:

    My previous review of this author:
    Death has an endlessly stretched-out audit trail even – or especially? – at the youngest ages, or over the shortest periods, with a turtle white dove on my chest…

  23. The Beautiful Room by RB Russell

    “It wasn’t quite quiet in the room;”

    And that eventually holds more terror than some of the overtly more aberrant sounds of Du Maurier / Lovecraft rats / birds in the wall of the beautiful room. A dispute within the shifting craft of young love, indeed, as a couple clash about the property they wish to rent in this foreign country, and who of them wanted views to open out whence to fly and who wanted just double-back roads and rat-runs in some city of convenience.

    My previous reviews of this author:

  24. Gulls by Nicholas Royle

    “Like a new breed of rat, only gulls, super-gulls.”

    I’m almost sure I have read this masterpiece before! A musically manic and linguistic apotheosis of gull and gulls – and married life at the seaside. I know. I am there, too. Still surviving. With my quilt of a wife.
    Now neatly in synch with the previous story.

    My previous three reviews of this author: (Quilt)

  25. Snow by Marc Werner

    We had been good friends at one stage, I had said, as if he needed reminding.
    ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘and then we weren’t.’

    From drizzle to whiteout, following an old friend but no longer a friend, knowing one was lost even more than usually knowing one was not lost at all. As if following in the fells as a palimpsest of two Magritte paintings, one cancelling the other out. The inscrutability of friendship, and questioning who or even what I am. A raven or an eagle? But, further on, or further back, is it a tench? If so, that is just as unlucky as a magpie, I say.

  26. Flight of Fancy by GA Pickin

    ‘Neither grey nor blue,’ my ma used to say, ‘but full of promise.’

    The narrator with such eye colours as well as gawky limbs, has even deeper connections with the heron than that, and not even countenancing a vase of cut flowers as more than dead things. A heron and a human that also have the earlier power of replacing or being allowed to be replaced in its rightful place as in Story’s story cohered or co-heroned with Moore’s and a now hopeful undying fall…
    Punctuated with one of the more shocking heron-shirt, hairshirt scenes in all bird literature, here a skinning overtly stuffed into the body of the text as a pick ‘n mix mascot to masochism?

  27. The Wounded Bird by Michael Kelly

    “Chit chit. Chit chit. The bird is talkative in its cage: chit chit purdy chit chit purdy.”

    A man tries to look after a beautiful red bird that he found wounded in the garden. Gets books about it. Now someone has put them both as man and bird in a book, it seems. A vicarious synergy of dying. The intentions were good, though.

    Other books of this author I have put on my site:

  28. Corbeaux Bay by Geeta Roopnarine

    “He looks up. More birds are circling but they are too far away for him to identify. Probably those damn corbeaux looking for another gullible housewife to feed them.”

    A tactile. Fish-dissecting crudely. A story of turning turkey-birds wild, a husband skittish enough to leave a mobile behind as he explores their holiday wilds and seas, a holiday expectation whereby he cannot be contacted while out by wife’s tales of kaka and child. Skittish enough for him to threaten wild life before wildering alone. And his own life be-wilded. Reclaimed by crudely returned cruelty. A resonance with the previous story’s vicarious, now vicious, synergy.

  29. Husks by Stephen Bacon

    “A click of the switch revealed magnolia walls, faded watercolours, yellowed skirting.”

    A heart-rending story you will never forget, about previous happiness of a family, the story’s male protagonist, his wife and daughter, but, as prefigured and later nightmarishly agented by the kookaburra they saw at the zoo, their subsequent dealings with cancer, suicide and eventual spiritual reunion in a new happiness…….. or pie in the sky? That now peeled sky…

    “The sky was losing its final vestiges of light. The birds had fallen silent.”

    My previous reviews of this author:

  30. Painful Hard Ectoplasm by Laura Ellen Joyce

    ‘Ectoplasm,’ Larry had told him. ‘It’s hard and it’s painful like being born backwards.’

    A story of Hart, as pent-up as a Flannery O’Connor, with his spy-hole niche in the house, the chicken coop on the roof, and his on-going backstory we witness forwards, the madness hardening like the eponymous stuff, not quite all in the head, but a pungent yen for Nancy and other girls, took her to see The Birds at the movies, based on Daphne du Maurier, yes, Flanneries of characters like Mr Peach and his Mum indulgent to Hart’s whimsies and his Dad being in prison… It’s like we share Hart’s hutch and its secret hatch, seeing bits of these people bit by bit through that spy-hole, till we get their gestalt, watch the movie of him letting the chickens out of their prison, near to Heaven already, the way smoke flows. Starts slowly and then speeds up, like the HitchCOCK film. And we can work it all out backwards so that it makes sense forwards.

  31. THE BIRDS by Daphne du Maurier

    ‘Can you tell me where this cold is coming from? Is it Russia? I’ve never seen such a change.‘

    I have this book to thank for inducing me to experience for the first time such an engaging SF novella, especially in view of its connection with the previous substantive work about Hart and the spy-hole hatch in his hidden hutch. I was struck by the way its ‘attack’ starts earlier than the HITCHcock film… and the cathartic pent up uncanniness of this fine book is finally realised. I’ll now put it back whence I took it so that it, too, can hatch again, for others to see what emerges. Never too late. Books and eggs, alike. I can now climb down.


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