Reviewed by Emma Crowley
She will change your life forever…
In the south-west of Ireland, rugged mountains meet bright blue lakes and thick forests. Deep in the woods, a young woman lives alone, forever secluded from the world, her life a well-kept secret. She possesses an extraordinary talent, the likes of which no-one has seen before: a gift that will earn her the nickname Lyrebird.
When Solomon stumbles into Laura’s solitary existence, her life is turned on its head. Pulled from her peaceful landscape to the cacophony of Dublin, she is confronted by a world desperate to understand her.
But while Solomon knows the world will embrace Laura, will it free her to spread her wings – or will it trap her in a gilded cage? Like all wild birds, she needs to fly free…
I've read everything that Cecelia Ahern has written right from her début P.S I Love You, and over that time her writing style has certainly changed and evolved in a way I suppose like the readers who have been with her since day one. I really enjoyed her earlier books but then felt things got a bit too magical and unrealistic for my liking and became a bit too like fairytales for grown ups. Thankfully with her last two books I feel she is back on form. Lyrebird has such a beautiful simple cover that belies the thoughtful, deeply moving story that awaits the reader between the covers. I felt throughout the book it ebbed and flowed in that there were parts I really enjoyed and others whilst not necessarily low points just felt flat and too drawn out and didn't add anything to the story. Die hard fans of Cecelia will love everything about this book and gobble it up in more or less one go, others will find it enjoyable and providing plenty of food for thought but maybe not reaching the highs one might have expected.
Solomon is a sound recordist working alongside Bo, who produces documentaries, and they have hit the big time with their documentary on the Toolin twins who live in isolation in rural Cork working away on their farm. Unfortunately one of the twins Tom has recently died and Bo and Solomon, along with Rachel, have returned for the funeral and to film some more to tie all the loose ends of the story together. They have spent such a long time filming Tom and Jo they feel a deep connection to them although it's clear success has gone to Bo's head and at times the true feelings of the subjects of the documentary are lost and she pushes people to their limit forgetting their wishes in her quest to become ever more successful. I felt she totally overstepped boundaries in her quest for professional gain, and yes she wanted to make the best documentary possible but it shouldn't have been at the hands of the subjects.
The day the crew return to film is the day when everything changes and in no way can ever be the same again. For Sol 'It is the moment his life splits, who he was before he met her and who he becomes after'. While walking through the forest he comes across a young woman who just seems to magically appear put of nowhere. Sol wonders where she could have come from considering they had filmed on the land for such a long period of time and had never come across anyone else. It soon turns out this woman is unique. She can mimic any sound she hears and uses this to communicate her feelings just like the Australian bird the lyrebird.
I did wonder was this going to become a completely and utter freak show with this discovery and that this woman would only communicate using mimicry and they would help her find her voice. Thankfully Laura could speak but it's the way she uses sounds throughout the book to convey her feelings is just extraordinary. She is so perceptive as to what others are thinking and feeling and yes this could be a bad or good thing but is used to great effect throughout the story. She has been living in a small cottage on the land in isolation away from everyone else. Jo has no knowledge as to who this woman could be but it soon transpires she has been there since she was 16 when her grandmother died and Tom had been bringing her food every week. I would have liked more of a surprise element at this point as to how Laura came to be in the forest. It all came out too quickly but on reflection this wasn't to be the main focus of the book and later on I was pleased with how her past history came to light and there was an element of mystery and uncovering the past. This later part of the story felt well thought out and finally there was something a bit solid the reader could get their teeth into.
One aspect where the book excels is the descriptions of the setting where the Lyrebird in question is actually discovered. Cecelia has made the Gougane Barra countryside come alive. It felt so raw and natural and almost like a cocoon for Laura to inhabit away from the world and all its pressures. She was a free spirit totally connecting to nature and receiving so much in return for living away in peace and solitude. But that was all so quickly shattered and I felt Laura became like a plaything, almost like a pawn in a bigger game in which she had no control. She was exploited for other people's greed in their search for success and power and I despised the way she was treated. Sol could see what was happening but when bigger players come into the picture things just spiral out of control.
Laura was quickly taken out of her comfort zone and it doesn't help that she is trying to deal with the death of Tom and her abrupt removal from the quiet existence she has known and loved. Soon she finds herself in Dublin and Bo in my mind manipulated her and threw her into a situation of which she had little or no control. Laura is made to audition for the national talent show Starr Quest and soon finds herself centre stage and made to perform using her unique sounds. I really didn't like this aspect of the story it didn't sit right with me. Laura seemed to lose everything that was unique about her and she became a shadow of her former self. Sol had no access to her and every moment was controlled. I felt so sorry for her that such a free spirit was being curtailed and had no say in what was happening to her. Things get totally out of hand as her success on the show grows and grows and the beautiful being she was is changed. The question remained would she be able to get back to the person she nice was and at the same time put the past firmly to rest in order to move positively towards the future?
Sol seemed to be the only one who truly understood Laura. He felt her pain through the sounds she made and it was like reading and understanding her story 'Listening to them felt like being invited into her heart, reading her diary, and he had no place being there – all the more so because he wanted to be there'. Laura seemed to diminish the more the pressure built and built and I hated to see people take so much advantage of such a beautiful person inside and out. I didn't enjoy the talent show section of the book as much as the earlier half, I felt there was alot of repetition and nothing much seemed to happen. I wondered had the reveal moment came too early on in the book? I wanted to get even more inside Laura's head. We got plenty re.Sol's viewpoint as to all the events that were unfolding and how Laura was experiencing things as in whether she was sad or scared etc. We could see Sol's infatuation growing and I really wanted him to be more firm and speak up and express his feelings and opinions as to what was going on. The pure exploitation of a young vulnerable woman who had been so suddenly exposed to the world. The book does teach us an awful lot about the state of the world today but I felt there was too much where we had to read between the lines and some things seemed left unsaid.
As I have said this book had ups and downs and there were parts that were really good and I loved them and other parts didn't hold my full interest. The most intriguing, satisfying part for me was uncovering the truth behind Laura's history and that may have been the part of me that enjoys books set in the past. Overall Lyrebird is a good read the writing is beautiful and exquisite throughout and it is a lovely story with lessons for all to be learned but it's not my favourite from this author. That said I will definitely continue to read whatever Cecelia may write in the future.
Many thanks to Harper Collins Ireland for my copy of Lyrebird to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.