What a sad state of affairs we have in the media and world of celebrities of late. It appears paedophilia ran rampant on TV sets of some of the greatest TV shows we grew up watching as children. I/ we don’t know what happened in the individual cases besides what the media feeds us but all I can say is how shocked all the cases have been to hear. Nicole Trope presents HUSH, LITTLE BIRD, a fictional look at this exact thing at a perfect time for this book to be released. Kernel Morgan reviews this book that is out now from the fine folks at Allen and Unwin. It is available from most book outlets or you can acquire it from HERE. Enjoy Morgan’s review…….all the best……..JK.
HUSH, LITTLE BIRD is a contemporary Australian crime novel that centres around a male TV game show host, Simon Winslow, who is accused of multiple counts of child molestation and is shot to death. The story is about the women in his life and how they are affected, including his wife, daughters, granddaughters, neighbours, and contestants on his show. We are given dual first-person narrators with alternating chapters, who, in the present, have both been sent to a minimum security prison for crimes of violence. Through their narratives we learn about the past, their relationships with the other women in their lives, and how they relate to Simon.
The topic-matter is very timely and could be ripped straight from the headlines. It could be Rolf Harris or Bill Cosby or Robert Hughes from Hey Dad or Stephen Collins from 7th Heaven. Trope gives us a fictional character in Simon, from a fictional TV show called “My Kid Can …”, a talent show for early to middle teens. The allegations are made by adult women who appeared on the show as young girls. It is estimated that thousands of children appeared on the show over Simon’s career, with thousands more auditioning. We are told that one of Simon’s neighbours thinks that he speaks with a fake English accent, and then his real Aussie ocker voice comes out when he is yelling on the phone.
One of Simon’s colleagues tells a newspaper “He’s simply a friendly man. He would hug me goodbye before he went on holiday. He hugged everyone. He liked to touch people. The fact that these girls misinterpreted his actions and that the media have now deemed him a predator speaks more to the changes in our society than to Simon Winslow’s character. When did a simple hug become a reason for child protection militants to accuse someone of paedophilia?”
An alleged victim says “He whispered that I smelled like a summer peach and then he kissed me.” Another says “His fingers went inside me and it hurt so much.”
Simon says “It seems like all the little worms are wriggling out from under their rocks.”
The protagonist of the novel is Birdy – that is a nickname due to her love of finches, her original name is Felicity or Fliss – an intellectually disabled young woman who has purposely overeaten to make herself fat and unattractive to men. Birdy’s communication skills and vocabulary are fairly limited. We find out early on that her father left her mother and started a new family. Birdy has a child of her own, Isabel, and it is clear the father has taken advantage of her. In Birdy’s life the men have been disappointing. Her father, the man next door, her boss, her boyfriend, and a male prison guard all either abandon her or use her. Much of the hook of the novel is finding out who Simon is to Birdy, and why she hates his current wife.
Birdy has the first and last chapter and every second chapter in between. Our other point of view is that of Rose Winslow, child bride to the much older Simon. While now middle-aged, Rose is infantile in her analysis of Simon and the world. She is better spoken than Birdy, but is submissive and fragile and deeply naïve. Rose loves gardening and thinks things like “If he doesn’t wish to discuss it then it must not be a real problem.” Simon was in his 30s when he began courting the skinny flat-chested school girl Rose. Rose explains “He wanted me and he got me. I was young enough to be groomed into being the perfect wife.” Groomed. “I had simply become someone else’s child.” With Rose, Trope displays a masterful knack of using forecasting language.
Rose views her single-mum neighbour as her “worst case scenario” and says when watching her she “saw how quickly everything could disappear.” It is an admission that she had a vested interest in not digging below the exterior or Simon’s façade. Rose tells us the first time she has sex with Simon she thinks “I’m never doing that again.” She remembers other tell-tale details of their marriage very matter-of-factly. About her post-pregnancy body “Simon hated my engorged breasts and flabby stomach.” When she wanted to have a third child she recalls Simon was against it saying “I could not bear to have you turn into one of those blousy women with great cow udders and stretched skin.”
I give this novel massive props for trying to address a difficult topic in an accessible way. We all have conversations behind closed doors to try to make sense of why paedophilia happens. We all toss up justifications, even if it’s in our minds, only for a second, for why celebrity offenders do what they do. Trope broaches the laundry list of excuses via characters reading opinions from press articles or having private candid conversations. I felt really uncomfortable at a female character summing up that paedophilia happens because “we let it”, where the ‘we’ is women, but unfortunately that is how many real women feel, internalising the blame.
There was a lot of repetition in this novel. However, we are dealing with two perspectives on the same events so sometimes repetition happens because present-day scenes overlap. Also the whole story is delivered through the lenses of two simple-minded characters with underdeveloped thought and speech patterns. Trope goes to a lot of trouble to explore all of the minor characters – all the women at the prison, all the mothers and sisters and daughters – which was a little frustrating when you just want to get to the meat of the main plot, but thematically it does fit, as Trope is presenting the idea that sexual assault and domestic abuse is part of the fabric of every woman’s life.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.