Too Many Magpies, Elizabeth Baines - Book/Reading Group Choice
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told ...
'As we crossed the park afterwards, suddenly there were birds again. Magpies, dropping out of the trees, like bunting, like Jack-out-of-boxes. They cackled, they seemed hilarious.
We tried counting.
"Seven," he said. "What does that signify?"'
In this short novel (123 pages) Baines weaves the spellbinding tale of a young mother caught between the realms of reality and irrationality. Married to a scientist, the protagonist's life appears to be a safe place built on the foundations of fact and reality until she meets a charismatic, powerful stranger who questions her reality and introduces her to a life filled with magic and spells. As her life is torn in two our unnamed protagonist must find her own self-identity.
Although this is a relatively brief novel it satisfies the reader as it is a well written, thought provoking, compelling tale. It provides ample food for thought for members of a book club/reading group. The plot will keep readers guessing until the end.
Points for discussion
You will find many interesting aspects to discuss with your book club/reading group in this intriguing novel. However, I have provided a number of questions to help you to focus whilst reading and for discussion within your group:
- Some characters remain unnamed throughout the entirety of the novel, what do you think the author's intention is in employing this technique? What relevance does it have for the novel?
- Consider the symbolism Baines' weaves into her tale. What is the significance of the symbolism and how does it add to the mood and tone of the book? In particular, how does Baines use magpies within the narrative?
- Do you feel that Baines gives her characters power and control over their lives or are they merely pawns of fate and chance?
- In your opinion, does the protagonist go through a period of self-growth and awakening during the novel or does she remain under the power of the men she chooses?
- What is the effect of the little suspected twist towards the end of the novel? Or maybe you did suspect throughout the novel that this event would occur - if so, what hints in the novel led you to this conclusion?
- Although you may not always agree with the protagonist's moral stance, do you find that you still have sympathy or can relate to her? Do you feel empathy or relate to any of the characters in the book and, if so, in what way?
About the author
Elizabeth Baines was born in South Wales but now lives in Manchester.
She is a prizewinning author of prose fiction and plays for both stage and radio. Her novels include Balancing on the Edge of the World (a collection of short stories), Body Cuts and The Birth Machine. Her new novel 'Used to Be' will be published in September 2015.
Elizabeth has been a teacher and an occasional actor.
Praise for Elizabeth Baines
'Baines has a unique voice' - John Baker
'A skilled fabulist - one with a gift to see the fabulous in the mundane' - Clare Dudman
'An innovative and committed writer of distinctly pure talent.' - The Short Review
'Elizabeth Baines is a superb stylist - a latter-day fabulist in fact - and her writing reminded me of Chekhov's in that it was spare and paid attention to the subtleties of everyday experience.' - Clare Dudman
On Balancing on the Edge of the World: 'Elizabeth Baines has led me through a myriad of seemingly ordinary moments and invested them with extraordinary power.' - Dovegreyreader
On Balancing on the Edge of the World: 'Impressive collection ... She finds and plucks out important and remarkable moments from the otherwise ordinary. It is quite a skill.' - Scott Pack