What’s Magpies all about?:
In Magpies, our unnamed and lonely male narrator hits a magpie with his car and follows it as it leads him to the woods and a little den where he manages to feel at ease for the first time in a while.
What did I think?:
In Lucy Wood’s debut short story collection the tales have a sort of otherworldly, magical theme and Magpies was no exception. It was also one of the strangest stories I have read so far and as a result, I’m still struggling to formulate my thoughts on it. When it begins, our male narrator is driving home across a beautiful and picturesque landscape described beautifully by the author with stand-out sentences such as:
“the trees along the road, all bent in one direction, looked like the silhouettes of fishermen leaning over water.”
As he drives along he meditates on the dreams his wife has been having, strange in that the last thing that he would talk about at night she would dream of in some way i.e. he would mention a crack in the stairs and she would dream of him walking up a staircase. Then, bizarrely the story shifts to a road-side cafe where he is waiting for Mae (his wife?), although he mentions that he has not seen her for about four years. Apparently, Herb’s cafe used to be “their” place that they would visit often, although Mae for certain, cannot imagine why that was. You get the sense that this man is incredibly lonely, perhaps has not moved on with his life following a break-up and visits Herb’s by himself on occasion, purely for the human company even if it’s just long-haul drivers passing though that he can chat to for a while and escape the monotony of his life.
He is thinking about how time has passed quicker than he would have liked when all of a sudden, he feels something hit his car. Getting out and searching around he finally sees a magpie at the side of the road, holding its wing up as if broken. The magpie appears to say something then passes under a fence and begins to slowly walk across a field towards some woods and our narrator feels a strange compulsion to follow it. For me, this part of the story felt incredibly eerie – even the way the author talks about the shuffling magpie and the brokenness of its movements sent a chill down my spine and made me feel fairly uneasy.
The tale shifts between these two points in the narrator’s life – his pursuit of the magpie and meeting Mae at the cafe where he is surprised to remember certain details of her face and her manner, as if he had forgotten. At other times, they seem to know each other inside and out, the knowledge that can only come from an intense and loving relationship. The narrator only seems to be comfortable in the story when the magpie leads him to a den between the trees filled with shiny silver remnants of his childhood, like buttons and badges that he used to collect. Throughout, I could feel the intense sadness and loneliness of the narrator which when combined with a little bit of surrealism made for an interesting read. What I do find strange about it is that even now, while re-processing the story and writing this review, I can’t tell you if I liked the story or not. Without a doubt the descriptive writing is truly captivating and I did feel that I had to finish the story regardless of the ambiguous ending, which I’m getting used to now with this author. I think it was just that damned magpie that got under my skin! (*shiver*). If anyone else has read it, I’d love to know your thoughts then maybe I can work out what I think myself.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: A Married Man’s Story by Katherine Mansfield from the collection The Story, Love, Loss & The Lives of Women 100 Great Short Stories chosen by Victoria Hislop.