All the Little Bird Hearts (Victoria Lloyd Barlow) was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and while that is sometimes indicative of nothing, in this case, they nailed it. I love the way some books make you look at the world differently. That is, differently from the way you look at it, like Milkman (Burns) or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Haddon).
In All the Little Bird Hearts, Sunday, the mother of a teenager, has autism. She interprets the world with the help of her encyclopedic knowledge of Sicilian folk tales and an antiquated etiquette book. And, while that sounds kind of odd, watching her as she navigates her surroundings and her encounters with other people, it makes weird perfect sense, and is a marvelous, often very funny, experience. Sunday's daughter, Dolly, is growing up and out, however, and that presents a whole new level of difficulty and confusion. To complicate matters further, a manipulative, superficially glamorous couple move next door and insert themselves into Sunday and Dolly's lives. What do they have in mind for the impressionable Dolly? Are they true friends, or something a bit more sinister?
All the Little Bird Hearts is a wonderful, thought-provoking book, perfect to start the year with. (Plus, it's a paperback release...yet another point in its favor. You're welcome.)
“A poetic debut which masterfully intertwines themes of familial love, friendship, class, prejudice and trauma with psychological acuity and wit.”─ The 2023 Booker Prize Judges
I lived for and loved a bird-heart that summer; I only knew it afterwards.
Sunday Forrester does things more carefully than most people. On certain days, she must eat only white food; she drinks only carbonated beverages; she avoids clocks. It's 1988, before autism was widely diagnosed. Sunday has an old etiquette handbook that guides her through confusing social situations, and to escape, she turns to her treasury of Sicilian folklore. The one thing very much out of her control is Dolly, her clever, headstrong teenage daughter, now on the cusp of leaving their home in the Lake District of England.
When the glamourous Vita and Rollo move in next door, the couple disarm Sunday with their charm, and proceed to deliciously break just about every rule in Sunday's book. Soon they are spending loads of time together, and Sunday feels acknowledged like never before. But underneath Vita and Rollo's allure lies something else, something darker. For Sunday has precisely what Vita has always wanted for herself: a daughter of her own.
A page-turning psychological drama, All the Little Bird-Hearts is an extraordinary, often witty glimpse into the mind of an autistic woman─and a remarkable debut by an author who is herself autistic. It is also an astute portrait of a woman coming to terms with the meaning of love, of motherhood, and of authenticity, and a poignant reminder about why accepting ourselves can be so freeing.
About the Author
Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow received a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Kent and has extensive personal, professional, and academic experience relating to autism. Like her protagonist, Sunday Forrester, in All the Little Bird-Hearts, Viktoria is autistic. She has presented her doctoral research internationally, most recently speaking at Harvard University on autism and literary narrative. Viktoria lives with her husband and children on the coast of north-east Kent. This is her first novel.
“A poetic debut which masterfully intertwines themes of familial love, friendship, class, prejudice and trauma with psychological acuity and wit.” —The Booker Prize Judges 2023
“A novel both delicate and strong, illuminating the disturbing and the extraordinary to be found in the every day. Sunday is a beguiling and beguiled narrator, and her story an examination of the disjunction between humans’ private and public selves. I loved it.” —Maggie O’Farrell, National Book Critics Circle winner and New York Times bestselling author of Hamnet and The Marriage Portrait
“This is a clear-eyed and sometimes heart-breaking tale of family dynamics and relationships, of deceptions both deliberate and unconscious, and of the many ways in which familial ties and friendships often overlap, related by a narrator who will stay in your head well beyond the final page.” —Boston Globe
“Observations land with the startling yet welcome snap of good standup comedy. . .The result is a tightly focused story, set almost entirely in two neighboring houses on a quiet street, that’s also a gleeful skewering of social codes, a raw portrait of family life and a revealing account of neurodivergence. Sunday may shy away from attention, but Lloyd-Barlow makes her wary, vigilant and poetic voice the star in a mesmerizing debut.” —The Guardian
Five Stars."Superb. Wonderful. All the Little Bird-Hearts is a beautiful, bittersweet debut…sharply evocative of both motherhood and how British society treats people with disabilities. Throughout the novel, Lloyd-Barlow’s prose sings, and has real acuteness of observation.” —The Telegraph
"[A] tender debut novel."—Washington Post
"Lloyd-Barlow... succeeds in creating a tempest in a very small, provincial teapot... Lloyd-Barlow’s narrator is... an effective, thoroughly human character in a thoughtful book."—Kirkus Review
“Lloyd-Barlow’s portrayal of Sunday’s contentment and confusions makes for a deeply humanizing representation of autism, and her prose is arrestingly sharp. This auspicious debut brims with quiet tragedies and lush emotional landscapes.”—Publishers Weekly
“A motherhood story unlike any other, Lloyd-Barlow’s 2023 Booker Prize–longlisted debut novel is a heartfelt, firsthand account of a neurodivergent mother’s experiences of love, pain, and loss in a world that requires constant translation… an engrossing page-turner.”—Booklist
“What a glorious, unforgettable character Vita is. And I loved Sunday's voice too, so unique, right from the off. It showed me things about autism that will stay with me. A genuinely valuable book, but more importantly I enjoyed being inside its world.” —Melissa Harrison, author of All Among the Barley
“Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow's is a distinct and poetic new voice. This novel about the complex desires behind our closest relationships is undercut with the darkness of Sicilian folklore: the fisherman who promises away his child; the lover who is a wolf; a caged magpie; burning fields.” —Clare Pollard, poet and author of Delphi
“Funny, lyrical, deft and devastating. Full of longing and love.” —Amy Sackville, author of Painter to the King
“A captivating, skillfully written portrait.”—Chicago Review of Books
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