Billy Bird by Emma Neale
Reading fiction fosters empathy – but rarely do you read a book where that process is so front and centre.
Billy Bird is the story of a family, from its rather accidental beginning, through its weathering of a number of tragedies, and up to its positioning itself for the future. People react to life’s highs and lows quite differently and those grieving find it hard to understand the actions of their loved ones, or even understand that their own behaviour has changed. But throughout Billy Bird you are aware that all of the characters’ behaviours need to be taken in the context of the events of the book – and do not represent who those people ‘in repose’ truly are. This is quite an achievement when of course those people don’t exist outside the events of the book! Having said all that, it is not a ‘heavy’ book but a lovely read – mostly because of the depiction of precocious eight year old Billy. He is first named Billy Chatterbox due to his constant narrative on life, but when things go sad and Billy changes, his parents stop calling him that. Billy’s dad Liam buries himself in work, Iris his mum gets a bit obsessive around the house, and Billy? Well Billy turns into a bird. And in a delightful way, as things get more and more strained between his parents, Billy’s bizarre behaviour starts to be the only thing that really makes sense. It is a glorious book in many ways – depicting the wonderful intensity of childhood passions, and the experience of parents whose children can suddenly become total mysteries.