Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 25, 2012

Sensational Snippets: Mateship with Birds (2011) by Carrie Tiffany

Everyman's Rules for Scientific LivingMateship with Birds

Did you love the quirky Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany?  I did.  It was her first novel, shortlisted for The Orange Prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.  It has been a long wait for her second novel, Mateship with Birds but from what I have read so far, (I’m up to page 28 and am hooked) the wait is worth it.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

On the outskirts of a country town in the early 1950s, a lonely farmer trains his binoculars on a raucous family of kookaburras roosting next to his dairy. But as Harry observes the birds through a year of feast, famine, birth, death, war, romance and song, his neighbour, Betty, has her own set of binoculars trained on him. Of Betty’s two fatherless children, it is Michael who gravitates towards the gentle man next door, and Harry, sensing Michael is ready to stretch his wings, decides to teach him the oldest lessons in the world. Harry knows all about girls. But how much does he know Betty? Mateship with Birds is a tender, witty novel of young lust and mature love. A glorious tale of innocence lost, it celebrates life on one small farm in a vast, ancient landscape, and a collection of misfits who question what a family might be.

Have you ever wondered what a dairy farmer might be thinking as he undertakes the twice-daily toil of milking the herd?  This is a Sensational Snippet to whet your appetite for this enticing novel:

He moves slowly between each cow, going backwards and forwards into the engine room, checking the separator.  When the rhythm of the milking is well underway he lets his mind wander.  Harry entertains himself with the idea that the girls are a troupe – perhaps dancers or singers – and that he is their manager, responsible for their myriad complex travel arrangements and costumes and meals.  They are on some sort of vague world tour where they are much acclaimed for their talent and beauty.  Harry is a dedicated but exasperated manager, worn down by attending to all of their feminine needs and foibles.  He’s responsible too for their reputations.  When Babs leaves her stall at unexpected speed, her empty udder slapping slackly between her legs, he watches after her and feels ashamed on her behalf, hoping nobody has seen his good girl with her bloomers showing.  Harry shakes his head and finishes rinsing the udder in his hands – the tight bag of a milker in her first lactation.  Four cows to go now.  The pump is chugging along warmly.  Harry wonders what grand city they are in today.  He sees bold headlines in foreign newspapers, imagines them being met in the foyers of expensive hotels.  The sound of their breathing falls into line with the pulse of the cups inflating.  Harry is their conductor – he’s at the centre of an orchestra of pistons, lungs and udders.  The cows provide the wheezy melody, the milking machine bashes along underneath with its regular motorised beat.  It’s Harry’s music-de-milk and the dawn is only just breaking.

From Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany, Picador, 2011 p 27 (purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh, $19.99)


Fishpond: Mateship with Birds


  1. I did really like Carrie Tiffany’s first book, so I am really looking forward to this one!


  2. I also really enjoyed Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living and was disappointed it didn’t receive more kudos. I was very happy when I read last week about Carrie Tiffany’s new book. It is at my library and I am first in the reservbations. Really looking forward to reading this one.



  3. I’ve got my copy and will be getting around to it in early Feb. – my review of ‘Everyman’s…’ should be out early next week :)

    By the way, I just finished ‘Please Look After Mother’… and I thought it was fairly disappointing :(


    • Ah, good, Everyman came out too long ago for most bloggers to have reviewed it, so that’s a plus for LitLovers online!

      Pleased to hear your POV on ‘Please Look After Mother’ – I was starting to feel lonesome in my underwhelmment. (I think I just made that word up, but it’s perfect for how I feel LOL).


      • It’s… all kinds of bad, responsibility shared between author and translator, a good idea badly handled. It may be a million seller, but so was ‘The Da Vinci Code’…


  4. I did enjoy Everyman’s Rules and hope this new one gets published in the US sometime soon. That book is not one I blogged about, but if memory serves, it involved some marvelous poking of fun at literal-mindedness, among other things.


  5. I recommended Everyman’s rules to so many people, calling it a little treasure. Was so glad to hear a little while ago that she finally had another one coming out.


    • The interesting thing about this title for me, is that I hadn’t even heard of it when it was recommended to me by a man at work who hardly ever reads books. I was so intrigued by him raving about how wonderful it was, I borrowed it just to see why. And then of course fell in love with its wry, quirky characterisation and the marvellous evocation of Australian country life in the interwar years.


      • Well, that’s great word of mouth isn’t it? I heard of it, as I recollect, because of all the awards it was shortlisted for and won, in some cases. It may even have been shortlisted for the MF though I may be wrong about that and am too lazy to check. But that would have been 6 or 7 years ago now. It’s one of those books that really sticks with you though isn’t it?


  6. $19.99 is a good price … I should have looked for it when I was at the NLA today but for once I didn’t actually make it to the bookshop.


  7. I’ve just put a hold on it at the library. Only one other person before me- it hasn’t arrived yet.


    • Well done, Janine! I think the blogging community knows about it before there’s been any mention of it in the print media!


  8. […] or singers – and that he is their manager.” This delightful passage is quoted in full on ANZ Litlovers Litblog as one of the blog’s “sensational […]


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