The White Bird Passes is a fine book by Jessie Kesson in which she fictionalises and reworks her childhood into a magical, moving novel. Set in Elgin and Skene in Scotland in the 1920s, we are shown the poverty and chaos of young Janie MacVean’s life – conversely, we also see the rough, close warmth of her community and the sunny moments in Janie’s relationship with her mother.
This book tackles large issues through a child’s eyes and it is beautifully done. And Janie’s love of poetry and literature, filling her thoughts, shines through the book.
‘If Donnie turned into a giraffe right now, Janie’s thoughts raced, the Trustee would get such a surprise that he wouldn’t be able to utter another word. The ridiculous thought got out of control, spreading itself grinningly across Janie’s face.
“Of his bones are coral made…
Nothing of him that doth fade.”
The lines rushed to Janie’s rescue. She steadied her thoughts against them:
“But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange.”
Her grin wrecked itself on the wide and wonderful phrase. Into something rich and strange. She could look with serious face now at the small Trustee. At Mrs Thane. At all the Trustees. She wouldn’t have changed places with one of them. Not for anything. They were all so old. Nothing was ridiculous, or rich, or strange to them any more.’
The White Bird Passes is beautiful literature, and I loved it. I give this book 5 stars.
I received this ebook free from NetGalley and the publisher.
First published in 1958, this edition by Black and White Publishing came out on 31 May 2017.