Murmurations, by Australian author Carol Lefevre, interested me especially as a short story cycle. The author links eight stories primarily through Erris Cleary, a deceased woman, as well as through many other connections. Each of the stories can be enjoyed individually. Each tells about a thoroughly believable snippet of life. They reflect aspects of each other and give each other depth.
Read as a whole, they form a satisfying novella in which individual questions raised are answered.
If you are curious about this genre, you might like to read my post ‘Ten reasons to love a short story cycle’.
Meaning of murmurations
Murmurations is the collective noun for a flock of starlings. The online site, Wonderopolis, describes the action of a flock of starlings as it swoops across the sky.
‘As they fly, the starlings in a murmuration seem to be connected together. They twist and turn and change direction at a moment’s notice.’
Starlings in flocks are linked in some mysterious way, their movements synchronised to form distinctive, changing patterns. The word, ‘murmuration’ echoes the murmuring sound that occurs due to their multiple wingbeats.
The title of the book comes from the murmuring and muttering of the characters in the stories, each with some connection, however vague or remote, to Erris and to each other. They offer many suggestions and clues that shed light on what might have happened to her. They, also, twist and turn and change shape.
As well, the author gives the title to one of the stories. In ‘Murmurations’, the only male protagonist in the book, ‘the boy’- a somewhat bewildered adolescent – meets Erris Leary. The boy and the reader come face to face with her, rather than hearing about her through other people’s impressions.
Unlike the other characters, the boy does not have a name, which seems curious. He first heard about murmurations as a young child from Sister Lucy, a nun who cared for him in a children’s home. He thought that the word could also be used about children, but now he finds himself working alone, and lonely.
A strong connection also exists between the boy and Emily, with whose story the book opens, and with their mutual, friend, Linnie.
Some of the things I love about Murmurations
In this splendid book, Carol Lefevre offers much to the casual reader. Deep reading uncovers more to admire.
- The variety and intimacy of the stories. They tell of ordinary lives in such a way that the reader feels caught up in the griefs, fears and joy of the protagonists, each very different from the others.
- Characterisation. Each character intrigued me. A medical secretary. An aspiring artist. A cleaner. A research scientist. A grandmother to the child of her ex-husband and his new wife. The list goes on. And then the questions: Why would a mother not weep when her son dies, but cry when she relinquishes a cat? What would life have been like for a young woman who could not choose what she wanted eat, or to choose anything at all? Why does the boy not have a name? Tiny details slipped into sentences invoke unexpected insights into lives and characters.
- Settings and descriptions. I enjoyed the way the author manages to bring places and objects to life with a simple sentence or two. I asked myself repeatedly, ‘How did she do that? How did she make me see and smell and feel what her characters did?’
- The connections. While the stories are discrete, they also connect and overlap in surprising ways. Part of my enjoyment of Murmurations came from the fun of making connections, or rather recognising the way the stories, characters and Erris Leary intersect. I would not be at all surprised to find that Carol Lefevre enjoyed laying that trail of clues for us!
I am grateful to author Fiona Robertson, who suggested I would like this book. Indeed, I did. Fiona’s own book, If You’re Happy is due for release at the beginning of February, 2022.
This would be a good book for book clubs and for teachers and students. It would delight readers who enjoy short story cycles and good writing.
Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021
This review forms part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2021.
Here are links to several other of my reviews:
The Smokehouse, by Melissa Manning (another short story cycle)
The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth (a novel)