From poet and painter Frieda Hughes, a memoir of love, obsession, and feathers. Hughes finds herself rescuing a baby magpie, the sole survivor of a nest destroyed in a storm, and embarking on an obsession that changes the course of her life.
In her new memoir, Frieda Hughes rarely mentions her famous parents, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. But their absence — in life and art — underscores this poignant and often funny story about, of all things, her relationship with a magpie ... Part of the charm of this book is that the author doesn’t dwell on her pain or her past or the reasons why. On a spectrum of people-animal memoirs, the book falls closer to Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk than John Grogan’s Marley and Me. Still, it is not especially cerebral or didactic, and that is not meant as a criticism. It’s a passionate book about unconditional love and commitment. It’s also fast-paced and suspenseful, full of amusing anecdotes, poems and Hughes’s sweet drawings of George.
Ms. Hughes is a canny stylist: There’s another memoir lurking behind this one, caught in asides. The book is both a love letter to the magpie who changed her trajectory and a nod to the voyeurism of her readers, 'the peanut-crunching crowd,' to quote a Plath poem. Ms. Hughes doles out her biography in tidbits, feeding us in much the same manner as she feeds George. She’s in command, and the familiar setting and characters—Court Green, Richard Murphy, Aunt Olwyn Hughes, the villainous 'my father'—shock when they unexpectedly slip into the narrative ... She tells her story in poised yet anecdotal language; her charm reels us in. Memoir as a form of self-revelation comes beautifully to her. I suspect her audience will clamor for another soon.
George is the weird but entertaining story of a woman and a bird. It is also a deeper story about that woman's reluctance to face the end of her marriage and her desire to hang onto some things (bird, husband) that need to be set free ... Hughes imbues George with a delightful personality. The words she uses to describe his behavior are those of human characteristics: He's audacious, he's funny, he plays tricks. He's aggressive, snippy and investigative, watchful and resourceful. He dances and skips and is a natural clown ... Hughes, the daughter of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, is a visual artist and poet. Her pencil illustrations of George are funny and affectionate, her prose is rich with imagery. Metaphors abound. It's impossible not to be smitten by the magpie (even if you get tired of scene after scene of bird poop and zany antics). It's also impossible not to feel for Hughes, who never wanted children but who is clearly filled with love and empathy and the need to care for something, even if only a bird.