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Review: A Thousand Paper Birds – Tor Udall


A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

I very nearly didn’t read A Thousand Paper Birds. I had drastically overestimated the amount of books I would get through during my three months in LA; and despite having packed ten books to take with me, I continued to add to the pile. I picked up dog-eared tales from a book-swap in Venice Beach, visited every bookshop I could – never leaving empty handed – added three more to my towering stack while on a literary pilgrimage to downtown LA’s The Last Bookstore; I even bought books from the selection on offer my yoga studio.

And so, by the time my stay in LA had come to a close, I had fifteen tomes yet to be read; and, travelling back to the UK on hand luggage alone (the bulk of my baggage was going back to Sydney with my other half), I had little choice but to give them away, in the hope that another reader would find use for them. Given that a number of the books I had left over were hardbacks, they were automatically put in the pile to be given away. And yet, intrigued by the front cover of Udall’s debut, I opened it to have a quick read of the blurb. The second I caught site of the book’s backdrop – Kew Gardens – I swiftly moved it to my handbag; and thus to the top of my reading pile.

One of my closest friends lives in Kew, and it’s a place I have loved for years. Both the quaint village; the cosy bookshop; the leafy square surrounding the tube station, the greenhouse cafe on the corner; the hatted schoolchildren, the picture perfect cottages, and the gardens themselves – an expansive stretch of calm a world away from the smog of the city.

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And so the backdrop to A Thousand Paper Birds was what saved it from a fateful trip to the second-hand bookstore, and as soon as I began it, while waiting for my delayed flight home to the UK, I was oh-so-glad I’d kept it.

A poignant and powerful tale of love, loss and letting go, A Thousand Paper Birds opens in the aftermath of Audrey’s death and balances on the periphery of a ghost story as Udall cleverly weaves a tapestry of five key characters, all of whom are linked.

We meet Jonah, Audrey’s husband, struggling to come to terms with what really happened to Audrey; origami artist Chloe, whose self-imposed barriers soon threaten to fall, free-spirited Milly, who lovingly roams the grounds of Kew, and thoughtful gardner Harry, a long standing landmark of the gardens.

As the tale unravels, so too do the complexities of the characters, and we learn more about the way in which each of them are linked to both Audrey and her sad demise. The beautiful backdrop of Kew was an integral part of the story, and the changing seasons of the gardens worked seamlessly alongside the ebb and the flow of the tale. I love reading books set in places I know, and the mention of the tree-lined roads, the village bookshop; gates I know well in the gardens, only added to the impact of the tale.

Wonderfully written with a haunting twist, A Thousand Paper Birds is the perfect debut; a love letter to Kew Gardens, and a beautiful exploration of the healing power of nature, of grief, of loss and of learning to love again and let go,

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Buy A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall on Amazon or from Waterstones.

About Tor Udall

After studying theatre and film, Tor Udall co-founded a dance-theatre company and spent most of her twenties directing, writing and performing. A Thousand Paper Birds is her first novel. She lives in London with her husband and young children.

About A Thousand Paper Birds

An intimate portrait of five inextricably linked lives, spanning one calendar year at Kew Gardens – an exquisite, strange and beautiful debut for fans of Alice Sebold, Curtis Sittenfeld, Barbara Kingsolver and Audrey Niffenegger.

After the sudden death of his wife, Audrey, Jonah sits on a bench in Kew Gardens, trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life. Chloe, shaven-headed and abrasive, finds solace in the origami she meticulously folds. But when she meets Jonah, her carefully constructed defences threaten to fall.

Milly, a child quick to laugh, freely roams Kew, finding beauty everywhere she goes. But where is her mother and where does she go when the gardens are closed? Harry’s purpose is to save plants from extinction. Quiet and enigmatic, he longs for something – or someone – who will root him more firmly to the earth.

Audrey links these strangers together. As the mystery of her death unravels, the characters journey through the seasons to learn that stories, like paper, can be refolded and reformed. Haunted by songs and origami birds, this novel is a love letter to a garden and a hymn to lost things.

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