Saturday, 6 March 2010
The Bird Room by Chris Killen
Not very clear I know, but I don't think the book is intended to be. The main character is a man named Will, who has a best friend named Will. This gets a bit confusing at times, and although this book is easy to read, it does make you constantly think who you are actually reading about. Will appears to be a pretty dysfunctional character, he has a girlfriend named Alice, who he took home from a club one night who then never left. We start the novel with Alice being introduced to Will (the friend), and the narrator Will being paranoid that she fancies him and is going to sleep with him. Although the language used is actually a lot more choice that that! It's not long though until we move back into reading about the start of their relationship, and learn of Will's incredulity that he actually has a girlfriend.
The story about Helen is very different. Helen is only her assumed name. Her real name is Clair, but she has taken a new name to escape from what is implied to be a traumatic school experience, although this is never elaborated on. Throughout, Helen is obviously acting a role, to avoid remembering a unpleasant part of her life.
The two strands are narrated in very different ways. Will's story is narrated by himself, whereas Helen's is in the third person. Consequently, although we feel some sort of attachment to Will, we are always kept at a distance from Helen, which is obviously how she likes it. She keeps everyone at a distance, even to the extent of changing her name.
This book is really a study of obsessional love, and the lies and deceit we perpetuate in all our lives, as well as the masks we wear both for other people and for ourselves. Obvious in Helen's story, perhaps not so much in Will's. Will's story is really the focus of this book, and he seems to change, or at least the way the author writes him changes, throughout the book. At the start, he seems quite lonely, but generally balanced. He did however quit his job and tell Alice he worked from home, a mask he tried hard to keep up, but when it collapses, so does the life he has built around it. The turning point is when he discovers Alice once filmed a video for an amateur sex website, and becomes obsessed with finding it and deleting it. From this point their relationship goes downhill, he becomes ultra paranoid, and eventually asks her to ignore him. Which if we are to believe his narrative, she does, even to the point of cooking a romantic meal for the other Will, and even sleeping with him in front of him. But by this point, Will has become so obsessive and delusional, it is impossible to know if this actually happened, or if his ultra-paranoia is creating false memories. The events he describes seem quite surreal and dream like, but he obviously believes them. Either way it is tragic. Horrible if it happened, and just sad if it didn't but he believed it did.
I think the two strands come together at the end, but it's all a bit ambiguous. Helen's last client is a man named Will. Same Will, different Will, I don't know. I think probably so, at some point after Alice has left him, but it's not altogether clear. I think this is what was intended though.
As to whether I liked this, I'm not sure. Until three quarters of the way through, I would have said I didn't, even though it was compelling to read. I think it was when I first started to see the possible connections between the two threads that I saw more in this, and it has left me thinking about it a lot, so it's gone up in my estimation. I also really likes the ambiguity, and the unreliability of Will as a narrator. For once, I think I sort of like the confusion!