Published as part of Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s One-Night Stands series of digital chapbooks, we have Anthony Cowin’s The Brittle Birds, the tale of Mathieu, who lies sickly in bed while being terrorised by the tiny malevolent creatures of the title. He flits between the present and memory as these microscopic flocks of countless creatures peck, scratch and burrow their way towards him, causing dissolution in everything they touch…
Cowin has created a very interesting concept here, the idea that all illness and decay is caused by The Brittle Birds, a metaphor (or, in the context of the story, entirely real) for entropy, disease and death. As Mathieu lies helpless in respite, he falls back into memories of first contact with these creatures (real or no, it stems from a childhood prank played on him by his brother, Dominic, which results in injury). There is also the mysterious figure of Hohokw, some kind of bird-related deity or harbinger, who proceeds to injure Mathieu’s eye, allowing the first of the Brittle Birds to take up residence. From this moment, Mathieu is haunted by these creatures, seeing them in every incidence of damage, in each bout of illness – they are the world’s decay.
Cowin's prose is effusive and fulsome, almost overwhelmingly so at first and I did find it a slight barrier in the first few paragraphs. But to me, reading (and writing) is about challenging yourself and once I found the flow of the story, it rattled along fine. Each sentence is carefully crafted and filled with delightful word and meanings. It serves as a (necessary) distraction from the stark reality (or otherwise) of the central creation and its inherent horror. You are delighted with the wonderful words and it's only seconds later that the true meaning clicks in. This is sustained right to the very end of the story, which is apocalyptic, melancholic and heartfelt in equal measure.
Reviewed by Paul M. Feeny
Paul M. Feeney
Paul M. Feeney has been watching horror films since he was a young, impressionable boy and before the lunatic hysteria reached his parent's censorship. This transferred to the written word when he was sixteen and read his first Stephen King book. He hasn't looked back since (except to check over his shoulder that there aren't any monsters following...).
The past few years have seen him turn his hand to the writing of his own fiction, in the arena of horror and the supernatural. He expects to be published soon, wit fame and riches following soon after...