Pecky the Magpie reviews The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey

In Catherine Chidgey’s latest novel, The Axeman’s Carnival, the story is told by a fascinating magpie called Tama. We asked writer Marty Smith to push his magpie, Pecky, to review Tama’s work.

My human reads me on the steps in the sun, because she loves me.

But it’s not… no, slipping into a trance, Tama, cold change from the South, a puff of giblets blowing in the wind. The sky drops dark and eerie over Marnie’s farm.

Little bird I still am, and I oh, I couldn’t drift, Tama, ear and eye all around for danger, scary bird, distressed from the start. You are right not to trust him. I can see it coming.

Oh, oh, tight in my throat.

Poor baby Tama in the house with the empty walls, flying blind, knocking around the corners.

Oh, frightened by the dead birds in the freezer, I shout Alarm! and lifts when he lifts the thing —

Bang on! with the sound of skidding and sliding on the slippery lid, I think, just right! as I collapse to squat next to you, dusty behind the cylinder. Tama-too small to see slippery surfaces in humans. Glass and mirrors.

True-clear the sounds in the valley as she brings you back, birdsong low, dogs on their chains and quad biking (I was lost from a farm) – my heart clenching like claws.

Too small Tama, to be passed over by your own stench of humans.

Too sad Tama, perched well below the rest of the birds, keeping a line of sight to the yellow yellow house.

Do you think your father does not see?

Joy! pleasure! when your father’s eyes light up blood red in the sun. Ha, piercing human eyes! Drink their blood! Roll them up, Tama, it delights them to think we wear a drop of glowing devil’s blood on our tongues. Enchantment! Picking up the embers of the spells, by the sting of my thumbs, a sting of blood, the dark shadow drifting.

Messages we bring.

Stay like you, Tama. To love to love. When your birds turn their backs on you one by one, Tainted Tama, oh, uneasiness, unease — my heart grows small and hides.

Things are not going well for the birds that go to humans of their own volition. (That’s not true, says my human, it’s other birds from afar.)

You will build your nest, oh Tama gone alone, winding the stalks of the way-to-the-wild through the solid blocks of the way-to-home.

Criss cross, leaving the air.

The lock, Tama, of Marnie’s hair – which you weave as a lining, in and out, the bonds of Marnie’s fertilized egg and its broken yolk, dead mothers and living mothers and babies and death by… .you must have been so rude? Must the male be so cruel?

One for sorrow.

The pattern is set. Naked dead women all over the TV, helpless women all over the net. Twist your neck, crash, your father is watching, watching. You hear his messages. Tama volunteer. You bet your pretty neck he knows who it is in your scrambled egg house. You bet your pretty neck is an alarm, Tama, oh Tama, in the smashed yellow house, your eye spinning, my neck feathers stinging.

The Secretary, what does she know of the air and the bird? We see small and we hear. Saying you don’t understand what you’re saying. Your voice is true, true. Messages you bring.

The author, and Marty Smith (Photo: Florence Charvin)

OF COURSE you mean what you say when you overexcite and scream your shit splatter. You stack these words on purpose, I giggle and giggle but shut up, shut up


Helpless dead women all over the television, naked dead women all caught in the net.

All caught up, Tama, nothing good can come. Stuff the soft center of your nest, all around the bed and Marnie. Marnie money, Marnie money. Aren’t you her little boy?

The whole world is watching your tricks, vain Tama. Show off. Got pumped up to fly through the air in a Superman cape, and thought about marking the herd? Oh. Your sister followed all the tricks your father taught, she could take the wasp sting, but would she listen? I missed the winding sting of a human thing, it goes down, it goes down.

– Tama! When humans take birds, something always gets stuck in the cross.

Cross crossing. Leave some space for air.

The interconnected network. Trap to stick you to the net. Marnie got stuck, huh? Just like the trap your sister is sitting in. Drawn little by little like the pieces of bacon that made him fall into a trap. Delicious cherries. There she sits as the world scrolls by, deceiving herself.

Just like Mary.

Rob isn’t the only jealous one, you, with your parades and your antics, your tricks and your jokes. Your revenge for restless and reckless chatter. Riding a witch’s tongue, Tama. Blue-black to its white size. Stench of offal in the air.

Seven for a secret never to be revealed.

Tears on the grave. Priest chanting a spell at the hole of offal, From dust to dust. Watch out for the ashes. The beautiful box of the beautiful body (did you see the crown jewels? Stole a brilliant diamond the size of an egg, talk about the pot calling the black kettle.)

Joy-cry of joy, Oh! Enchantment! when you tease and yell at the internet crew on the greeting card shoot. Bunch of jerks. I swallow all the nasty, reckless tongue-in-cheek sequences, oh the sounds of joy, carry on, carry on – Oh, AHA! HA! I screamed with joy, splat! -Take that!

You shouldn’t shit in your own nest, Tama. You messed up your way home with sticky-beaked visitors. Nothing good can come, it turns very Grimm. Needles and wickedness. Out of me, I scream, Kidnap! Murder! Never again!

Woe, and all that, if they weren’t so stupid. (Mmm snappity-snap, tasted his blood).

You are easily tricked, Tama. Too big for your boots. They lead you so easily, all the cages close. Did you listen?

The dark silhouette of your passing father.

Thirteen attention, it is the devil himself.

The dog, Help, is frantically looking for something that isn’t there.

Dark sons of mothers. Angel-I’m-just-down. Twisted, twisted angel.

Have you seen the muscles of the man? It’s their mother, Barbara. Living currents.

Check. Check. Check.

The shears buzz and hum, the heat rises and the rain never comes.

Frayed with tension like the cable of a wool press, my heart scratches and races.

He is thirsty. Fires are building. Drive a man to the climax, the farm collapses. The magpies in the pines, watching the house with the broken eggs.

Old Quardle-do knew a thing or two.

Uh-huh, I think the pattern is set. The woman always aborts the escape. We can’t afford to lose any, said Rob. We’ve had enough abortions.

A sickly carnival, a ferocious and stabbing rush. You bet your pretty neck.

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

couldn’t put Humpty back together.

Shut up, shut up, you’ll never shut up

the thick air of the edge of the blade, sharpening, sharpening, sparks spitting in the dry air like tinder.

I puff out my feathers, fold in on myself, my head right in my chest and I stare. My horror even in my pinpricks.

Oh Tama.

Close-up of Pecky (Photo: Marty Smith)


Tama the magpie insisted on having the last word and therefore offered us the exclusive rights to publish her summer playlist:

With long hot days just around the corner, when you can lay on the ground and let the heat burrow between every feather and lay there in a solar trance for your owners to freak out when they find you and think that you’re dead it’s time to think about a summer soundtrack. Here are some of my favorites.

1 Adele, “Water Under the Bridge”, because she just has grief. Unlike me, she can’t sing two notes at once, but she tries hard and you have to admire her for it.

2 Milli Vanilli, ‘Baby Don’t Forget My Number’. It’s hard to pick my favorite song from this iconic duo – Rob and Fab could do amazing things with their vocals, and style-wise it’s hard to go past an oversized sports jacket paired with sassy bike shorts (today’s neglected youth, take Note). If I have to limit myself to just one track, this one really showcases MV’s incredible vocal ingenuity. (Should I have braids?)

3 Miley Cyrus, ‘Wrecking Ball’. I too would like to break things while wearing men’s underwear.

4 Matilda Waltz, in recognition of my Australian lineage. I don’t know what a billabong is, but I can’t help saying it. Billabong. Billabong. Billabong. Billabong.

5 Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”. A lovely song that brought many older women to tears when Mitchell slaughtered her at a folk festival this year. My menopausal secretary read the whole sorry YouTube clip. Unlike Joni Mitchell, I have one eye on each side of my head, so I can really see things from both sides.

6 Bruce Springsteen, “I’m On Fire”. Haunting and atmospheric, it’s a moody two and a half minutes about a pedophile who experiences spontaneous human combustion.

7 David Hasselhoff Cover of ‘Head On’ by Jesus and Mary Channel, loved dozens of times online. The Hoff is huge in Germany, like me, and this version of the song features great diction paired with a thrust and dynamism totally absent from the original effort.

The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (THWUP, $35) can be ordered from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.

Comments are closed.