I thoroughly enjoyed Perrat’s The Silent Kookaburra, and I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to read and review her latest novel, The Swooping Magpie.
The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.
Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.
She’s not wrong.
Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret, because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.
Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.
Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.
Reflecting the social changes of 1970s Australia, The Swooping Magpie is a chilling psychological tale of love, loss and grief, and, through collective memory, finding we are not alone.
The Swooping Magpie covers three periods – Lindsay’s affair with Jon, the immediate aftermath, and the longer-term impact. I really enjoyed the first section, which covers fifteen-year-old Lindsay’s initial flirting with her teacher, Jon, which soon develops into an affair. What starts out as some harmless fun (from Lindsay’s perspective, at least) soon becomes more serious as Lindsay is convinced that they are in love, despite Jon being married and several years older than her. Their affair leads to a seemingly inevitable outcome, and the novel changes tone at this point as Lindsay’s life moves from being one of fun and games to having to deal with the consequences of their actions – consequences that will affect her for the rest of her life, as the reader discovers in the final section, when Lindsay is older and wiser, yet still dealing with the trauma she experienced as a teenager.
I don’t want to go into the details of how the story progresses – I’m sure that, like me, you can make a decent guess at part of it. The story goes a long way beyond the obvious, however, and explores the prejudice of the time, and the awful treatment that unmarried mothers were subjected to. Set in the early 1970s (which isn’t really that long ago), I found the views held by some (many, I’m sorry to say) people to be absolutely shocking, as were their actions in dealing with such situations. The fact that The Swooping Magpie deals with a true-life scandal from this period makes it all the more shocking – it wasn’t something I was aware of prior to reading this novel.
While I was sympathetic to Lindsay’s plight, I found her character to be largely unlikeable at first. She is a brilliantly realised teenager, full of the arrogance of youth, and I found the reminders that she is the prettiest and the smartest rather grating at times. I wouldn’t wish her experiences on my worst enemy, however, and I found myself warming to her later in the novel. Lindsay’s predicament is not unique, and she meets several others in a similar situation, but from markedly different backgrounds. I thought that this was a brilliant way of showing that it wasn’t only a certain class of girl who was treated in this way, and that girls who were in this situation through no fault of their own were also (unfairly) stigmatised and treated in the same way.
The Swooping Magpie is an emotional tale which contained darker themes than I was expecting, and the exploration of a real-life scandal through the fictional Lindsay’s eyes was shocking to witness. Thought-provoking and poignant, this is a novel that will stay with me for some time.
Many thanks to Liza Perrat for the opportunity to read and review The Swooping Magpie, which is available to buy now.