Friday, July 15, 2022

Book Review: The Birdcage

By Jami Denison

A birdcage has long been a metaphor for something pretty trapped behind bars. In British author Eve Chase’s latest novel The Birdcage, three pretty things are trapped together, and the result isn’t… pretty. 

Flora, Kat, and Lauren are half-sisters, all products of their artist father Charlie’s randy ways. As kids, they used to spend every August together at their father’s summer home in Cornish; Flora and Kat teaming up against Lauren, whom they resented since her mother was Charlie’s favorite. But they haven’t been together for twenty years, ever since a tragedy happened at the home. Now Charlie has summoned his daughters home, ostensibly to clean out the place since their grandmother passed away. But old resentments die hard; Charlie has an announcement that will stun them, and someone is leaving anonymous threatening notes. What really happened on the night of the eclipse twenty years ago? And who will pay for it now?

The Birdcage is marketed as a mystery full of dark secrets and twists, but I found the carefully constructed characters to be the most intriguing part of the book. The novel goes back and forth between Lauren’s 1999 point-of-view, and each sister’s contemporary POV. Flora is trapped in a marriage that looks gilded from the outside, but she’s secretly miserable. Kat is a workaholic who rejects love if it makes her vulnerable. And Lauren, grieving the recent death of her mother, has holes in her memory when it comes to that fateful night. Will her sisters tell her the truth? Their relationships with each other are weighted with the dynamics of the past but are buoyed by adult knowledge and compassion. 

Similarly, there’s a wealth disparity between the sisters that impacts them, with Kat and Flora both enjoying a high standard of living, and Lauren living a less privileged life with her mother. As children, this leads Lauren into befriending Gemma, the daughter of the house cleaner, and the imbalance plays out in that relationship as well. Chase uses a subtle hand with these conflicts, but they pay off in the end.  

I found the mystery to be less mysterious than manipulative—Flora and Kat both know exactly what happened that night; author Chase chose to structure the book to hide it from the reader till the last pages. As a result, the tension felt artificial. The anonymous notes never quite felt like a real threat, and the book’s final reveal was obvious. 

For me, the biggest mystery was Charlie and all the women who birthed his babies. What made him so irresistible? And did he ever hear of birth control? 

Thanks to Putnam for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Eve Chase:

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