The Phasian Bird

Hardback, Faber and Faber, 1948; first edition.

Book condition: lacking the dust wrapper, small nick at top of spine, contemporary inscription on front inside cover: 'W. Shutter (?), Stiffkey, June 1949' (HW farmed at Stiffkey, of course, so it's quite likely they knew one another). Internally fine.
Price: £2.00


Anne Williamson writes of the book: 'The Phasian Bird combines the story of life on a near-derelict farm on the Norfolk coast during the Second World War, taken over by Wilbo, an artist, with that of a Reeves' pheasant – an exotic species of pheasant with a tail of up to six feet or nearly two metres long – here named Chee-Kai (meaning 'Arrow Bird' but perhaps also reflecting its rather sweet call, so different from the harsh grating of the common pheasant), the name given to it by the Chinese. Wildlife on and around the farm is described in detail and skilfully interwoven with the human characters who live and work there: the farm labourers, local poachers and American soldiers billeted at a nearby camp. The book ends with the (symbolic) death of both Wilbo and Chee-Kai from senseless greed and ignorance of poachers and soldiers in a classic HW description of dramatic death at a time of prolonged severe and intense frost.


'You will read here the story of life on the farm with all the minutiae of life, human and nature, spread out on the canvas: equal weight given to each stroke of the brush, for it is a great painting in words. The full scenery of life is portrayed, very muted, very understated, and so all the more powerful. HW draws on memory of the tiniest detail and events and with his writer's skill embellishes each incident with understated drama. The structure and timing of events, the building up of tension, all superbly captures the unfolding of the plot.'


(For a further consideration of the book and the background to the writing of it, see Anne Williamson's The Phasian Bird.)