I had no idea of what this story would be like when I started to read it, so I came to it with out any expectations, other than that the blurb on the back cover really intrigued me. And I was not disappointed. It was sad and touching reading about Pina and Alan's relationship before his diagnosis of Alzheimers, and then its unravelling after. Arianna's family history of domestic violence and its ongoing effect on her was another sad backdrop to the story.
It appears that both Pina and Arianna either were experiencing, or had experienced an unravelling of their most significant domestic relationships and they were searching for a way to make sense of it and weave it back into something coherent for themselves. In many ways, probably the most significant theme of this book is change and the limits of our agency in change. We don't always get to dictate which change occurs, nor its trajectory. The birds and the fire represent this, they had their own imperatives to follow. Wild things and wild events, as well as other people, don't always conform to our will. So the more we try to regain control, the more out of control things get, until we accept the path that we are on.
This was emblematic in not only Arianna's bird release program, but also Pina's determination that the birds must mean something. Both women appeared to be trying to sort the events into a form that made sense for them. Even the title 'Rain Birds', and the belief that black cockatoos bring rain (something I had heard spoken of before) is really us imposing our wishes on them.
Both women ultimately came to a better understanding of the path they were on. They both clearly had grieving to do, and I wouldn't say they got their happy endings. However, the resolution of their stories was realistic and poignant.
McKnight's writing about those witnessing loved ones with Alzheimers was spot on. And her depiction of the bush in the summer heat and just before a fire was very evocative. She captured the helplessness and the heroism of those in this sort of situation exceptionally well. Her writing was very well paced. While I wouldn't put it in the thriller genre, it still had quite a page-turning quality. I would say that it was one of those books where I start reading it and think, this is quite good, and then before I know it I realise that I am reading a very good book.
This is a wonderful story about change, how we deal with it and how we manage the consequences of trying to resist it.