Writing & News

Reviews of Life with Birds: a suburban lyric by Bronwyn Rennex

In Australian Book Review, September issue, by Sarah Gory: a long and sparkling review. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ostensibly, Life with Birds is about the author’s search for her father, a Vietnam War veteran who died when she was young and whose story she hardly knew. As I read it, though, I was reminded of a line from Svetlana Alexievich’s seminal oral history The Unwomanly Face of War (2017): ‘Women’s stories are different and about different things.’ In the end, Life with Birds is less about men and war than about the women left behind – in this case, three daughters and a wife – and the shape of their lives in the wake of his silence, and then his absence.

One of the text’s central questions is whom we are looking for when we delve into the past. Bronwyn Rennex’s father remains almost as obscure to us at the end of the book as he does at the beginning. ‘What am I trying to do?’ she asks. ‘Put bones back into a ghost?’

Life with Birds is haunted by the father, the war, the faceless institutions that govern our lives, but Rennex seems to be piecing together not her father’s life so much as her own memories. She begins, after all, with extracts from her teenage journal. A war story perhaps, inasmuch as it is a reckoning with time and grief and spectral presence.”

In the Sydney Morning Herald/The Age in Lucy Sussex and Steven Carroll’s column:

“The ordinary events of suburban living are apt to go overlooked, but not in Bronwyn Rennex’s poetic family tale. Its grand themes of life and death constantly rub shoulders with the incidentals such as watching a TV soap character die, giggling through her teenage christening, or sitting in front of a mirror creating multiple images of herself that disappear into infinity.

The key event, the before and after of her young life, is the sudden death of her father when she was 15. She delves into his past, mostly his military service in occupied Japan and Vietnam, at one point shocked to learn that her kind father taught troops jungle warfare.

The birds? Among other things, they’re symbolic of resilience and not being able to control everything in life and nature. A deceptively simple combination of meditation and suburban family portrait.”