Book Review: There’s a Bluebird in my Heart by Gary McMahon

“If Bukowski was ‘a laureate of American lowlife’, then it would be fair to cast McMahon as a poet of the British soul.”

BluebirdThe latest release from miserablist British author Gary McMahon is curiously entitled There’s a Bluebird in my Heart from White Noise Press. The title comes from the Charles Bukowski poem ‘Bluebird’ and sets the tone for the newest chapter on McMahon’s resume.

The chapbook plots the story of Bill, a down-and-out who is content with slowly drinking himself to death. Intrigue is added to the situation by the revelation of the idea that invisible monsters are slowly murdering the local population. Whilst some of the locals don’t believe the monsters truly exist, are merely a government fabrication to keep the population in line, Bill knows them to be real.

To say that Bill is a typical McMahon protagonist is to underplay how complicated and real McMahon makes his characters. Bereft and broken, Bill embodies the everyman of modern day Britain, slowly bludgeoned by the callousness of the authorities. As with his previous work, McMahon’s social commentary is right on point without being overt. His locations drip with social and economic degradation and his characters wear both their physical and emotional scars for all to see.

The monsters mentioned in the story are a fantastic conceit and one that may have benefitted from further expansion. The angle McMahon takes of making the majority of the population sceptical of the monsters is a clever one, ensuring an extra layer of mystery. Tales of floating prisons for the monsters will prickle the interest of hardened readers of the genre and add a richer context to this short snapshot into a harsh world.

The world McMahon has created here is pitiless yet not without a bleak, dissonant beauty. As mentioned when reviewing The End, McMahon’s prose has become more lyrical and interesting as his career has gone on. It now contains a dark rhythm coupled with powerful imagery. Whilst this chapbook is short, clocking in at only 23 pages, McMahon is accomplished enough to give readers incident, suffering, and emotional hooks in this duration. As with some of his previous short fiction such as ‘What They Hear in the Dark’, there is room here for expansion, a readymade world that would benefit from a wider piece of work.

As well as containing a superb story, the chapbook itself from White Noise Press is a superb product and the internal illustrations by Keith Minnion add another level of dark beauty to proceedings.

Over the years, McMahon has become less prolific; at one point there was barely an anthology published that didn’t contain one of his stories (or so it seemed), yet whilst his output has decreased, the final product has been elevated to another level. Alongside recent releases The Bones of You and The End, There’s A Bluebird In My Heart can be counted amongst McMahon’s very best work. The fact that his work is not as frequent as it once was means that McMahon’s releases should be cherished much more by the book buying public. Rather than taking regular, quality releases for granted, it gives the reader the anticipation of his next book.

If Bukowski was “a laureate of American lowlife”, then it would be fair to cast McMahon as a poet of the British soul, deeply connected with real life and an accurate diarist of Britain’s hard times. For monsters threatening people’s existence, read Tory cuts. McMahon is dialled in to what makes Britain tick and this latest release makes his work more vital to the British genre than ever before.

There’s A Bluebird in My Heart is limited to 150 numbered, signed copies. Don’t miss out on one of the best short stories published this year.


Publisher: White Noise Press
Paperback (23pp)
Release Date: 14 October 2015

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