Childhood opens a window to the adult soul

Telltalle: reading, writing, remembering
Caramel Bird
Transit Lounge, $32.99

In May 2020, during the “weird and dreamy” time at the beginning of the pandemic, Carmel Bird took it upon herself to critique the books in her own library. She gave herself one limitation – she could only consider the physical books in her home. The result is Treacherousa most unusual memory.

A lifelong reader, Bird uses this self-imposed limitation—books she’s read and kept at home over the years—to recall her childhood and question the making of her own psyche. She writes: “The present is not good enough, the future is unknown, but hunches, little messages from the past, carry something dear and mysterious, important and magical.” These “little messages from the past” are the joys and suffering (and there are many sufferings) of reading and re-reading.

Carmel Bird reminds us that many of the books we read (or read to ourselves) as children have not aged well.

Carmel Bird reminds us that many of the books we read (or read to ourselves) as children have not aged well.

Those familiar with Bird’s work, which spans nearly 30 novels, short stories, and non-fiction books, will be intrigued by this invitation into her mind as she ponders where the ideas, symbols, and themes in her work come from. The answer, in many cases, is the books she read as a child. Flipping through these worn and foxed relics of their childhood in the 1940s — a time marked by the uncertainty of World War II — is one way to critique the books that shaped them from an adult perspective, the two decades after the 21 dangerous uncertainty).

There’s beauty in it Treacherous. Bird shares her joy at picking up a favorite childhood fairy tale and finding her mother’s handwriting, which immediately evokes memories of her mother’s delicious raspberry jam. But as in all fairy tales, joy and bliss are always accompanied by darkness and terror. And here, in what is likely to break any reader’s heart, Bird reminds us that many of the books we read (or read to ourselves) as children have not aged well.



Many of Bird’s childhood books were vehicles of imperialism, usurping the rights and might of the British Empire and concealing the violence of colonization, particularly the violence and attempted genocide of the sovereign First Nations of Tasmania, where Bird was born. Now in her 80s, Bird muses “with a casual gesture, may such a prejudice of one race against another be laid down in a child’s mind, perhaps to be recognized and regretted later in life.”

Bird recognizes and regrets it, and here she is confronted with a difficult truth—those flawed books once shaped her understanding of the world and influenced the way she writes. She doesn’t provide any details, but in Treacherous Bird acknowledges “my terrible mistake Bringing my mother’s sewing machine across Bass Strait″⁣ (a 1989 short story) and “the taped correction in cherry ripe(a 1985 novel).

Symbolism abounds, literary allusions abound, and time and words repeat themselves. Bird refuses to follow any standard form of memoir. “Maybe there are unruly fringes,” she explains to the reader. Maybe there are crazy metaphors.” There are bridges, suicides and suicides on bridges. There are birds, particularly peacocks, and a terrifying array of endangered creatures. Childhood opens a window to the adult soul

Jaclyn Diaz

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