I picked up Mouthful of Birds as my first read in June and boy, was I in for a ride. Macabre and twisted from the core, these stories lie waiting for you to just start settling down before they jump out, baring venomous teeth, sharp enough to rend fear into your hearts and minds.
According to Goodreads,
A spellbinding, eerily unsettling collection of short stories from the Argentinian sensation Samanta Schweblin, author of Fever Dream. ‘Mouthful of Birds’ is the award-winning collection by Samanta Schweblin, critically acclaimed author of Fever Dream. Unearthly and unexpectedly, these stories burrow their way into your psyche with the feel of a sleepless night, where every shadow and bump in the dark takes on huge implications, leaving your pulse racing and blurring the line between the real and the strange.
With her hallmark style, made popular by Fever Dream — hailed as ‘terrifying and brilliant … dangerously addictive’ by the Guardian — Samanta Schweblin haunts and mesmerizes in this extraordinary, masterful collection.
Why I Picked It Up
The reason why I even picked up this weird, eerie, and dark book was that I came across this synopsis just after I had read Mariana Enriquez’s The Dangers of Smoking in Bed. I was absolutely smashed by the horror element in that collection so much so that like an addict, I needed my next dose of literature along the same vein. No pun intended.
Enter Mouthful of Birds. I came across it on Amazon and at first, it was the cover that attracted me. The luminous, almost phosphorescent wings of the dozens of butterflies on the cover creeped me out and at the same time, caught my attention.
Why I point this out, is because of the fact that I hate butterflies. I am disgusted by them and they just give me the heebie-jeebies. I even shudder to think of them. But this cover ended up having the very same qualities as the stories inside — they repel and at the same time, they pull you in.
Of course, the fact that it had a sticker on it letting me know that it was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019, also helped. There is nothing like reading a critically acclaimed book to make you simmer in your feelings. And so, I ordered it and very soon it graced my doorstep.
Why You Need to Read This Book
Much like The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, the book Mouthful of Birds too consisted of some very tantalisingly original and scalp-prickling stories.
Some are sweet, and some are despondent. Most are weird, almost all unnatural. But they are strangely reflective of one or the other aspect. I feature the animal in us; the cruel, feral, and the venomous creature in us that won’t think twice before laying an unimaginable intoxication, that will, in turn, compel you to keep reading it, page after page after page.
I was reminded of something I thought even as I was reading The Dangers of Smoking in Bed. When I wrote my thoughts on it in a review, I felt as if the dark side in us didn’t take a lot to come to the forefront. I said, “Perhaps, our dark sides are ultimately not that deeply embedded in us, and are just lurking around under the skin?”
“Perhaps, our dark sides are ultimately not that deeply embedded in us, and are just lurking around under the skin?”
But is it really true?
Where the stories from that collection felt malicious often, the stories here are more, docile and mild, although still wild in their own nature. The collection Mouthful of Birds sure did make me face my inner thoughts and beliefs via the thinking of the characters here, the actions they took, the ways in which they let nature decide their life.
I felt the fear of the unknown, and of the secrets of nature when I read On the Steppe. In Preserves, I felt the perversity of life and death, or rather, its delay. In the story, Mouthful of Birds, I felt pure disgust, my own bile rising up at the animalistic hunger in a young girl. In Headlights, the supernatural and the social intertwined, and I was spellbound. But was I weirdly impelled to press on? Yes, of course!
Stories like Toward Happy Civilization, My Brother Walter, Heads Against Concrete, The Size of Things, and The Heavy Suitcase of Benavides, I faced the most conflicted of human nature, of violence and manipulation and perverse power-play. But was I ashamed? Did I feel a strong sense of second-hand embarrassment and horror that maybe I shouldn’t have? Yes and yes.
So I asked myself. Why was that? Is the unnatural so inherent in us? Be it the subconscious or even the unconscious — is this so normal that it is almost unnatural? What is it about these stories that attract us? A self-reflexive sense of the self? Of what we are innately and can often turn into at just the snap of the fingers? Is it that easy? Who knows? Do I? Do you?
What is it about these stories that attract us? A self-reflexive sense of the self? Of what we are innately and can often turn into at just the snap of the fingers? Is it that easy? Who knows? Do I? Do you?
And if we did, would we dare to acknowledge it? To chase this piece of intangible knowledge and seek it out deliberately? Are we brave enough to place a mirror in front of our monstrous selves? Do you know?
Because I have been comparing Mouthful of Birds to The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, let me also attempt to close this review by saying that this too is no easy read. It is intense, it is eerie, it is art. Mouthful of Birds is esoteric but elegantly universal, originally surreal and humorously absurd, and it is a masterpiece. If you are looking for something that excels in all these categories and checks all the boxes, pick it up.
If you loved reading Mouthful of Birds, you might also enjoy The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, and vice versa. Read my review of The Dangers of Smoking in Bed.
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