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Shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year 1987 Award.


Literary & General


Noel Virtue


Peter Owen



Rights available:

Brazilian, Italian


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.


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.


"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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