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The Redemption of Elsdon Bird

Elsdon Bird is an affectionate and imaginative child raised in a family steeped in the religious intolerance of the Christian Bretheren sect. When Dad gets sacked from his city workplace for proselytising and trying to 'save' his workmates, the Birds are forced to leave Wellington and their odd-ball neighbours with whom the lonely, marginalised boy had some affinity, and move to a small, remote town in the north. Here, life might have changed for the better, but instead the family begins to disintegrate. Socially isolated beyond regular infusions of bigotry from the other Brethren families or 'holy rollers' in the town, his parents descend further into a rigid looking-glass world of religious fundamentalism that uses Elsdon as a whipping boy for all its frustrations. Driven more and more into himself and inspired by the Jungle Book, Elsdon builds a fragile internal world maintained by conversations with cows and sheep. He also talks to a small voice in his head which, for a time, is the closest thing he has to a confidant. Yet, when a sequence of disasters finally breaks up the family, the endearing Elsdon's amazing resilience and precocious humanity see him win through in the end. Many writers have attempted to convey the lucid, terrifying world of a sensitive child in the grip of a family bent on pathological violence but few have brought it off with the conviction and subsequent acclaim as Noel Virtue. THE REDEMPTION OF ELSDON BIRD was shortlisted for the UK's most valuable literary prize in 1987, the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award.
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About the Author

Noel Virtue was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1947. The author of eight novels and an autobiography, he is now established as one of New Zealand's leading contemporary novelists.


The protagonist of this first novel is a sensitive young boy being raised in New Zealand by parents who belong to a fanatical religious cult called The Brethren. Much is made of young Elsdon's morbid fantasiesthe book opens as he finds the skeleton of a dead baby in the atticand we are never sure what is and isn't real. Did Elsdon's best friend really murder his two siblings? Did a ``Chinaman'' really eat his cat? One thing that we are sure of is Elsdon's mother's brutality. When his father disappears his mother goes over the edge, beating Elsdon until he blacks out and dragging him into a more and more degrading lifestyle. The author piles on one horror after another, focusing so intently on Elsdon's misery that the other characters are poorly developed and never adequately explained. In spite of the imaginative premise, the novel reads like a case history of child abuse. (September 7)

'Little Elsdon must be the worst-treated child in literature since Smike. But Virtue sensibly sustains the robust, laconic idiom of his native New Zealand, and never attempts to play the violin on his reader's heartstrings. Elsdon's untarnished optimism lights the bleakest landscapes and carries him to safety.' - INDEPENDENT 'A wonderful account of childhood that touches you to the quick with its painfully funny amalgam of misery and euphoria.' - MAIL ON SUNDAY

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