BIRDS OF PARADISE by Oliver K Langmead
Titan Books p/b £8.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
Our word `paradise’ has its origin in the Old Persian word `pairidaeza’, meaning a walled area, either a garden or a circumscribed estate. This presents us with a clue to what the Garden of Eden represented to the goat-herding desert nomads of early Israel. Furthermore, it has an immense similarity to the walled towns or `burhs’ of late Anglo-Saxon England and its cattle economy. This encapsulates in one short paragraph all the elements of my studies for this year. Serendipitous synchronicity or a simple coincidence?
The story opens with Adam, you know the first bloke ever, short of one rib of course, who, in his own words, `got made before death’ doing door security in Los Angeles. He gets dissed and assaulted by a celebrity whose head gets smashed in. Nasty! Adam’s lawyers are Corvid & Corvid, an ancient legal firm with an exclusive clientele. His lawyer, known as Rook, argues that the police are confused by Adam’s old certificates from previous lives. You see, Adam is immortal, and such people suffer from a social difficulty known as not dying. They reach a point when they have to make an excuse and leave the room, their former life and start another elsewhere. A nice problem to have.
Anyway, Rook arranges for Adam to escape during an attack on a prison van by a flock of birds. There are sequences of brutality in this tale that are very effectively presented, leaving the reader with a sense of indecency in having read them. Adam then flies to Scotland, where else, in the company of Crow, who dislikes flying by plane so much she jumps out over the Atlantic. Adam reminisces as having been in Scotland before with Eve only in those days it wasn’t called Scotland. Some of my forebears had the same problem.
Adam meets Ada and Frank Sinclair, who have huge greenhouses outside Edinburgh and admires their collection of plants and their strange coterie of followers. They are looking for a Magnus Corvid whom they see as a competitor. Adam then moves on to Glasgow and unwittingly demonstrates an appreciation of that city. Langmead is a glass-half-empty man who sees dystopia everywhere. He would be an excellent companion to take on a walk. In Glasgow, Adam finds Magnus Corvid, otherwise known as Magpie, who, at the expense of Rook, is collecting those elements of Eden that have survived into modern times.
Magpie has taken over an abandoned football stadium in Manchester in which he is assembling those parts of Eden he has found around the world. All these parts were made before death and are the ideal types from which our reality has been formed. Adam and Magpie contrive the theft from the Royal Academy in London of Eden’s cherry tree, which Frank Sinclair considers his property. The scene is now set for a variant on a familiar theme oft described as the Twilight of the Gods, although God never puts in an appearance. It does rain a lot, though.
Adam is presented throughout this tale as a man whose perceptions are concrete. He has no conceptual instincts. He leaves that to the birds of Eden. He yearns to find Eve again but cannot recall how he lost her. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you if he does. You’ll have to find that out for yourself.
This is a wonderfully challenging tale. An exceptionally good read at an excellent price.