Murmurations by Carol Lefevre – a review

cover murmurations

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. 

murmuration of starlings

Title

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

author carol lefevre

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.

details of murmurations

Recommendations

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)

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. Isn’t it such a clever and layered book? So happy to know you loved Murmurations, too.
    And thank you so much for the mention and link, Maureen – much appreciated x

    1. Hi, Fiona. Thank you again for suggesting I read Murmurations. Amazingly clever, touching, poignant. It was my pleasure to mention If You’re Happy – I’m looking forward to reading it.

  2. Sounds interesting Maureen especially around short story cycle. I am experimenting with that style at the moment.

    I must repeat – thank you for sharing. Might have to find a different way to express my thanks – don’t want to sound boringly repetitive..

    1. Never boring, Elizabeth! Thank you for your comment. Short story cycles fascinate me, as you have probably guessed.

  3. Thank you so much for this lovely review of Murmurations. Short Story cycles are as intriguing for the gaps between them as for the connections, and as well as shaping the narrative the gaps draw the reader in and allow them to contribute out of their own experience and imagination.

    Other wonderful connected story collections to try, and two of my own favouites, are Alice Munro’s The Beggar Maid: stories of Flo and Rose, and Amy Witting’s wonderful book I for Isobel.

    Thanks again for reading.
    All good wishes,
    Carol Lefevre x

    1. Hello, Carol. It was a pleasure to read Murmurations and to write a review. I loved it! Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. I had not thought about the gaps between stories in a short story cycle. Thank you for pointing out the role they play.

      Thank you also for your further suggestions for this genre. I have not read The Beggar Maid, but I read I for Isobel many years ago. I must revisit it and read The Beggar Maid.

      I look forward to reading more of your work.

      Warm regards, Maureen x

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