REVIEW: Odd Bird by Lee Farnsworth
Simon Selwood is an academic expert on the monogamous sexual behaviour of birds – but hopeless at finding human love. Then he meets Kim, and at last something is more important to him than ornithology.
Kim doesn’t give a hoot about birds. And at first she isn’t very interested in Simon either. Relying in on what he has gleaned from observing the opportunistic pied flycatcher and other species, plus the unorthodox advice of old friend Phil, Simon sets out on a mission to discover love for himself.
But will he make the right choice?
Odd Bird takes a light-hearted look at the battle of the sexes, drawing on the surprising parallels between the courtship behaviours of humans and birds.
Dear Mr. Farnsworth,
Oh My Darwin what an adorable book. Though not without a slight (very slight) slow section, overall I found it charming. I know that the character of “Phil” has a real life inspiration and after reading your version of him – Is it close to the real guy? I’d love for it to be close. – let me say that I think it would be a riot to go out drinking with the two of you. I won’t sing but I would hum in the background. Still I must warn readers that this is a book which I believe people will either like or dislike with little in between.
So, no, Phil (who I mentally saw as Nick Frost) is not the hero of the book. The hero is Simon Selwood, avian expert and hopeless at women. In the opening scene, which takes place at a pub called the Swan, Simon and Phil eventually take part in what appears to be a cherished tradition in which one relates some problem issue to the other over the course of a song playing on the jukebox. This time it’s Simon telling of the breakup of his (frankly not all that thrilling) recent relationship. Phil’s reaction illustrates that he’s not all that sad that his friend’s relationship with this woman ended and thinks Simon can do better. (At this point Phil shows his colors so if readers like him or not, he doesn’t change over the course of the story.)
But can Simon do better? He dislikes crowds and let’s be honest, being an avian behavioral ecologist isn’t exactly a major boyfriend pull factor for most people outside the field. He spends time with an associate at his university, who laughs (giggles) a lot and who talks Simon into coming to one of her “fabes” parties where Simon meets Kim. Ah, Kim. Simon’s PC (paracingulate cortex) perks up when they meet Kim who chats nicely with Simon while looking gorgeous. Try as he might and attend as many of Pippa’s “do’s” as he can, Simon doesn’t catch sight of Kim again until he engineers a meeting at a blues festival with Phil as his wingman.
Phil is far quicker on the uptake than Simon, finessing the situation with Kim’s date while acting like a twat. I can see him whipping Mike into a competitive frenzy of “frisby plate throwing into the picnic hamper” but alas the next encounter Simon has with Kim isn’t until she announces her engagement. Obviously Simon isn’t her phenotype. Then things change and Kim might just be interested. Unfortunately Simon is headed off to Sweden to spend a summer studying pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca).
Arriving back in London, Simon brushes off the warnings of his friends and pursues Kim, finally forming a pair bond with her. Is this relationship going to be for life, for the breeding season, or just someone more tempting comes along?
Told in first person, this story is sort of like Brit Guy Lit. Introverted, avian behaviorist guy lit. I went back and forth speculating on whether or not Simon is mildly autistic or just crap at social interactions. He does view the world through avian specialist eyes and it sometimes appears that he’s studying his fellow homo sapiens as if they’re field specimens in the wild. Where he’s confident and bold is when he’s dealing with science and interacting with his fellow scientists.
Simon is earnest, honest – to a fault – sometimes clueless and oblivious but I was on his side and cheering him on. Simon wants a monogamous pair bond. He’s not a player, he trusts who he’s dating, and he tries. He tries so hard to be a good and supporting boyfriend and also a good scientist. Sometimes he tries so hard at the first thing that he can’t see the forest for the trees but he tries.
Yet I have read reviews which fault Simon for being “flat,” “unemotional,” “off putting” and the like. I loved the humor but it is dry and at times very sarcastic. There is a lot of information about birds but since this is Simon’s forte and how he views the world, it made sense to me. There were a few subplots in the second half of the story about non-science projects that Simon gets involved in which went on a bit too long for my taste and which I struggled to stay interested in. But when things focused back on him and his relationships, I was hooked again. Then came the finale which, with Phil’s help, wins Simon the pair bond he’s always dreamed of. The scene is hilarious yet also true to the characters. Still, maybe Simon would be better off avoiding karaoke from now on. B