I remember what I was doing when I first heard the news; I was playing Mozart’s ‘Sonata in C’. Would I ever be able to play that again? During the coda I heard the cow bell at the back door, a silence, then Dad’s voice raised in question. They didn’t come into the lounge to tell me. Unsuspecting, I went out to the kitchen when I’d finished playing. Mum and Dad were sitting there barely touching, staring at nothing.
When you first realise the unfairness and randomness of death it eats into your thoughts like acid. I didn’t believe in God the way Mum did, but I still screamed at him in my head, ‘You’ve picked the wrong family to do this to.’ I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough, Mum wasn’t either. Then there was Dad, a crumbling pillar trying to hold both of us up.
How does a family deal with death? In The Messenger Bird the short answer is ‘not well’. Set in outback South Australia, three members of a family mourn the loss of the fourth. Separately and in very different ways. It is as if a piece of a puzzle is lost and without it, nothing makes sense. Mum retreats into herself, and Dad spends all his time and energy restoring their old stone house. They three are side-by-side but alone. Tamar, the main character, can see this but there seems to be no fixing it, and she seems to be the only one trying to change things. Nothing that once gave her pleasure can touch the emptiness and pain. Including – or perhaps particularly – her music. Then she finds a piece of sheet music that somehow links her with the past and helps her to begin to imagine a future.
A house holds in its walls the memories of all who live there. In The Messenger Bird, Tamara discovers the history of the house as surely as her father does as he renovates. For each, the discoveries also allow them time and perspective in coming to terms with the loss in their lives. Truths that are too big to imagine are broken down into smaller bites and piece by piece, the characters can put their lives back together. The Messenger Bird is full of mystery. Or mysteries. Some are intended to be uncovered, others will remain forever out of reach. And the business of life is to decide which ones are which. A moving story about death and life and the choices people make. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.
The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke UQP 2012 ISBN: 9780702238826
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author