An English Guide to Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle

Review published on September 16, 2017.

Lily Lynch and Stephen Osmer are your archetypical fashionable couple; she is an artist and he is a journalist and critic and they are heavily involved with the glamorous arty people of London. Osmer likes to write confrontational stuff about all sorts of subjects, including about an author and critic both called Nicholas Royle. Silas and Ethel Woodlock have retired to the Sussex coast to spend their final years near the sea, but what they had not taken into account is how much noise and distress the gulls would cause them. At a loss for things to do in retirement, Silas takes up creative writing and starts to think that he might have found something that he could enjoy.

When he finds his first short story ‘Gulls’ in a book called Murmurations: An Anthology of Uncanny Stories About Birds, he is not very happy. In fact, he is livid, absolutely livid, because the story has been attributed to an author called Nicholas Royle. Woodlock knows it is not Royle’s as it is the same as the manuscript that was left in a pub several months earlier after he had passed it to Ethel to read. Woodlock finds out where Nicolas Royle lives and in a moment of fury, decides that he needs to go and talk to him about this. He arrives mid-way through a party and lets rip at Royle before events take a much sinister turn.

There were parts of this novel that I liked; the way that the Woodlocks fitted each other well, but were unsettled by the move to a new area. In real life, there are two authors called Nicholas Royle, who are frequently muddled and I liked the way that he has picked up on this and made it an integral part of the book. I liked the short essays called Hides, but it really jarred as it didn’t fit in with the novel and I am not quite sure why the conclusion of the novel is in the final essay. It is OK, but not fantastic.

Paul Cheney 2/3

An English Guide to Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle
Myriad Editions 9781908434944 pbk May 2017

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