This book is definitely a reader’s book, or maybe a writer’s book? I’m never really sure what the difference is, but either way it’s a tome that really pushes you to focus on what you’re reading as there are quite a few heavy philosophical arguments and references within the novel, and it pushes you to question what is and isn’t real with the protagonist acknowledging that he’s had previous stints in a mental institution and the varying ‘ghosts’ to which the title refers.
I bought this book in 2011 at the Boston Book Festival and it’s just sat on my shelf since. I’m glad I read it, but at the same time I’m not sure why I bought it at the time as I’m terrified of ghost stories, but you’ll have to read on to find out how this one affected me. Since it’s been on my shelf for almost two years it counts for my Mount TBR ‘extra’ challenge. It took nearly two weeks to read and that’s from the denseness of the book. seriously, scroll down and read the first line—it’s a PARAGRAPH—or any of the quotes for that matter!
I searched out this novel after reading Howard’s End is on the Landing and thoroughly enjoying Hill’s writing style. And after finishing The Bird of Night I’m even more convinced of her amazing writing style and ability, it’s no wonder the novel appeared on the Man-Booker shortlist in 1972 and won a Whitbread Novel Award (now called Costa Book Awards), and it’s definitely no surprise I found it stirring. I will definitely have to check out more of her work.
The Bird of Night is a story of love and madness. The narrator of the story, Harvey, looks back on his life and his time spent with Francis, the poet, and Francis’ rise to fame and coinciding decent into madness. There’s no way I can even begin to grasp everything in this compact novel, but I can definitely appreciate the beauty of the language and the intensity of the story. The quote below sort-of sums up the novel, or at least what I got out of the novel.
“And if he is mad, it is because one man’s brain cannot contain all the emotions and ideas and visions that are filling his without sometimes weakening and breaking down. But he will be perfectly well again, he is generally well. When he is not he is in despair and when he is fit he dreads the return of his illness. What can that be like to live with?” (149)