Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living was first published in 2005, seven years before Mateship with Birds. If you were wondering what took Tiffany so long to produce a follow-up book, an interview I spotted recently in The Age might give you the answer. You see, she actually wrote another book (Freud in the Bush) around a fictional visit the great psycho-analyst (never) made to Australia in 1911. Originally planning to mock Freud, Tiffany abandoned the book when she realised that she actually agreed with many of his claims…
…and this is painfully evident throughout Mateship with Birds. The book is littered with Freudian allusions, and the focus on sex is almost obsessive, with (it seems) barely a page passing without some sort of mention. Oedipal complexes abound, and the fathers you would expect to see in the story are more conspicuous by their absence. Most of the characters have dreams that any Freudian psycho-analyst would have a field day with, and at one point Harry writes about a childhood memory of his mother doing something very intimate in his presence. Even the baby kookaburra, feeding its mother for the first time, seems to be in on the act…
It is possible though to think about the story in non-Freudian terms (just about!). There is a strong focus on family and what that entity actually is. Whether it’s Betty and her children, Harry’s skittish herd or the laughing kookaburras in the old gum tree, the reader is constantly confronted by family groups, none of which seem perfect or complete in the usual sense. However, even these groups can be surprisingly strong:
“In the way of a family, the herd is greater than the sum of its members. Even in a small family, three for instance, Harry has noticed this to be the case.” p.47 (Picador, 2012)
There is also a link back to Everyman’s Rules… in the way that science is shown to be a tool to be used cautiously and sparingly. The more you attempt to impose science on nature, the more you lose sight of what life is about. Harry’s sex education lessons (which are certainly more biological than emotional) are a good example of the consequences of forgetting the human element in life.
“It seems plausible to considerthat birds were the architects for trees.A hollow,or a fork,
for every nesting cradle;a branch for every grip.And they designed a structureto which insects are naturally attracted,like women to the shops.” (p.135)