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The Language of Birds

ebook / ISBN-13: 9781473654549

Price: £9.99

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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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Jill Dawson explores the [Lucan] case from the nanny's perspective, bringing her to life as a fictional yet vivid character. And, in the process, she takes on the British class system, misogyny and domestic violence. Even though we know the tragic ending, the novel is curiously uplifting.
Liz Hoggard, Radio Times
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
Compelling . . . it's a heartbreaking read
Eithne Farry, Sunday Express
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 that examines the case thoroughly without making you feel like a rubbernecker. Dawson's greatest achievement is to breathe life into Sandra, emphasising that she would deserve our attention even if she had not met such a tragic end.
Jake Kerridge, Daily Telegraph
Refusing to get distracted by the largely spurious mystery of Lucan's disappearance, this imaginative and often poetic novel keeps itself grounded in the no-nonsense realities of social class and domestic violence.
Phil Baker, Sunday Times
[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
Jill Dawson has always had a knack for spotting sensational true-life stories and making from them intelligent, thought-provoking and terrifically absorbing page-turners. Her latest is no exception . . . The sights and sounds of vibrant Seventies London pop off the page, and the whole thing crackles with life, ideas and - hurrah - unapologised-for female desire.
Summer Holiday Reads, Daily Mail
The nanny's-eye view of these posh, emotionally stunted people is entirely effective . . . this beautifully written novel achieves its aim: it gives the victim back her voice.
Andrew Taylor, Spectator
Atmospheric and genuinely riveting, with a huge feminist heart.
Alexandra Heminsley, Grazia
Dawson's fictionalised take on the Lord Lucan murder case eschews sensation to explore questions of nature and nurture, and celebrate female friendship and desire. It's fantastic on Seventies London, too.
Christmas Books, Daily Mail
Imaginative and poetic
The Pick of the Best Paperbacks, Sunday Times
A vibrant and compelling literary creation . . . Dawson tackles themes of class, culpability, sex and violence in a powerful and affecting novel
This novel is based closely on the events surrounding the disappearance of Lord Lucan following the murder of the family nanny, Sandra Rivett, in 1974. Focusing as much on the nanny's life as that of her aristocratic employer, it's strangely dreamlike, sometimes surreal and always enthralling.
Sunday Express S Magazine
Glorious and exquisitely written. And - for a book that takes one of the most famous murders of the 20th century as its inspiration - astonishingly full of life and joy.
Emma Flint, author of <i>LITTLE DEATHS</i>
I loved it. It's a brilliant riposte to all the Lucan myth-making that has developed over the years - so moving and so righteously angry.
Paula Hawkins, author of <i>THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN</i>
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 . . . 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
Rachel Cooke, Observer
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.
Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
Dawson has a great talent for turning real people into fictional characters . . . By viewing the drama through the eyes of two nannies - the watchful Mandy and her more gullible friend Rosemary - Jill Dawson introduces an intriguing new perspective on the well-known tale. The cold, knowing world of upper-class entitlement is captured with fresh eyes. Dawson is particularly sharp on the nanny's conflicting thoughts about her neurotic employer.
Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday
Gripping . . . This dazzling novel combines the pace of a thriller with moving, poetic writing.
Joanne Finney, Good Housekeeping Book of the Month
Poignant and heartbreaking.
Louise Doughty, Cosmopolitan
Addictive and moving
Emerald Street