:: Article

Some good descriptions of nipples

By Ben Myers.


Chris Killen, The Bird Room, Canongate, 2009

1. A brief plot overview of Chris Killen’s debut novel The Bird Room: obsessed by the revelation that there exists on the internet a clip of his girlfriend Alice having sex with her ex-boyfriend, the novel’s protagonist Will attempts to address these jealousies via a combination of endless hours trawling amateur porn sites, buying Viagra from a man named Barry and – ultimately – unsuccessfully and awkwardly trying to recreate what he and Alice once had with a hired call girl called Helen who, is also so dissatisfied with her life that she has attempted a complete reinvention of her self. She used to be Clair. Now she’s Helen.

2. An even briefer overview: sensitive but jaded young man loses girlfriend to fatuous artist friend, even though artist friend has grey teeth from drinking too much red wine.

3. The Bird Room is a very good book. I read it in bed long into the night. In the middle of the night, talking in her sleep, my girlfriend said “What’s all this noise about?”. There was no noise, but it may have been my head whirring and clicking as I lay thinking about what I had just read.

4. Though some reviewers have remarked how hilarious The Bird Room is, I found it to be one of the saddest books I have read in a long time. It is sad because it is believable and says something deep and often unspoken about the human condition. I think anyone in their twenties or thirties should especially be able to relate to it, and if they can’t, I would question whether they have a heart that works. The aspect of the human condition that it depicts is perhaps best summed up in a piece of graffiti that Will reads on the toilet wall of his local pub:

Someone has written

Why can’t the world be tender and kind?

on the tiles in marker pen.

Underneath it, someone else has written


5. The Bird Room is about the ocean-wide space that exists between people in the modern age. It is about anxiety. It is about abject loneliness.

6. Chris Killen perfectly nails the feelings of being single while all round you far uglier and stupider people are pairing off; he also nails the overwhelming and unstoppable compulsive urge that that can arise from jealousy and a fear of abandonment.

7. To achieve this, he revels in the every day mundane aspects – the colourless minutiae – which when pieced together like a jigsaw create the illusion of ‘living’. Eating leftover pizza. Listening to Erasure. Sitting on the sofa. Porn. Booze. Worry. Confusion.

8. Killen is economical. He uses his words sparingly when too many writers have a tendency to over-write. In this sense he has quite a lot in common with Richard Brautigan and, to a lesser extent, Raymond Carver. And, to an even lesser extent, the haiku poetry of the Japanese masters. Or maybe a Jarvis Cocker chorus. Or a Mike Leigh exchange beneath a lamppost at midnight, in a Manchester back street. On this evidence I think he’ll write many great books in the future.

9. The Bird Room is filled with many memorable descriptions and epithets. Some are painful, others powerful. All of them work and help elevate this book beyond contemporary fiction and up into the realms of poetry. I recommend you buy this book. My favourite line in it: “There is a glass girl in my bed. If I ask too many questions she will shatter.”

10. There are also some good descriptions of nipples.

Ben Myers writes poems, reviews, novels, interviews, biographies and blogs.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, January 19th, 2009.