By Catherine Chidgey
On the surface, The Axeman’s Carnival is a somewhat quirky story about a special magpie. One who is saved by a human woman as a baby, after falling out of his nest, learns to talk human words, and chooses to leave his magpie family, after being returned to the wild, and live with his new human family in their house. The magpie is named Tama, short for Tamagotchi. Tama is the narrator of this story, conveying to us the world as he sees it. Why he chose his human life and what he thinks of those around him, both human and animal. Tama’s adoptive human mother loves Tama and uses him to fill a gap in her life left by her miscarriage, and an abusive husband. As Tama takes on more and more human characteristics, she starts a twitter feed, posting videos and photos of him, and he soon becomes famous. On the surface, this is Tama’s story of his human life and his fame. On the surface.
Tama doesn’t always understand what he sees, though he knows that Rob hurts his beloved Marnie. He learns to talk and repeat things because it makes Marnie happy, but he doesn’t always understand what he is saying or that in innocently repeating something he can trigger a rage in Rob that will be taken out on Marnie. In this, I felt the novel was much more than what it seemed – while, yes, we were being told a tale of an unusual magpie, what we were really experiencing was a domestic abuse situation as seen through the eyes of a child. Being shown that women who are made to feel less by their mothers and sisters, both before and during their abusive relationship, not only don’t have a safe harbour to help them leave, but may not have the courage to do so. And that sometimes, when pushed to a limit and ready to leave, they will stay so they don’t lose their child.
While I felt this deeper narrative was done well, there were some weaknesses in the story. What bugged me the most were language related inconsistencies. There were times when while Tama was repeating words that he didn’t understand, he would later be using them in his narrative or aloud as if he did. I also had a problem with there apparently being magpie words for internet and similar concepts alien to magpies. On the whole though, while some of those inconsistencies did draw me out of the story at times, I found it was an interesting approach to a sensitive topic and overall a book worth reading.