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A Cruel Bird Came To The Nest And Looked In by Magnus Mills - Book Review

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Swift meets Trumpton

This novel pushes the boundaries of what can be considered “fantasy”. It’s set in the past on an alternative Earth filled with unfamiliar countries including Greater Fallowfields and its proud Empire. However, its stars are the same as ours, its culture and customs are familiar and – crucially – there is no magic and nothing supernatural.

A Cruel Bird Came To The Nest And Looked In is a comic satire in the tradition of Jonathan Swift. Its simplified, almost childlike version of civilisation (it’s like Trumpton or Balamory, where characters have no lives outside their jobs) is able to stand for many things. Greater Fallowfields resembles a Britain on the cusp of industrialisation, complacently resisting it – our central characters are the country’s unqualified government officials, fiddling while the Empire burns.

Yet although the novel could be read purely as an analogue of the twilight of the British Empire, it’s more than that – it’s also about modern Britain, the business of empire generally, and the march of progress. This could have been a mess, but the whole is held together by Mills’s strong plotting and well-judged humour. A clever, highly readable novel, its generic peculiarity is just one mark of how original it is.

Eddie Robson

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