As Swallows Fly by L P McMahon, Review: Empowering courage

As Swallows Fly by L P McMahon is a deeply moving story about two trauma survivors, the fallacy of perfection and the power of friendship. Read my full review.

As Swallows Fly - L P McMahon

As Swallows Fly Synopsis

When Malika, a young orphan in rural Pakistan, is savagely attacked, her face is left disfigured and her self-esteem destroyed. Haunted by the assault, she hides from the world, finding solace in her mathematical theories. A few years later, her intellectual brilliance is discovered and she leaves conflict-stricken Pakistan for a better education in Melbourne, where she finds herself placed with Kate—a successful plastic surgeon facing emotional insecurities of her own.

Malika and Kate’s lives slowly intertwine as they find within each other what each has lacked alone. At first, Kate’s skills appear to offer a simple solution to Malika’s anguish, but when tragedy strikes, the price of beauty is found to be much higher than either of them could have known.

As Swallows Fly is a poignant portrayal of survival, identity and empowerment in a culture dominated by the pursuit of perfection. In a captivating and unforgettable debut, McMahon asks what might be possible if we have the courage to be flawed.

(Ventura Press, March 2021)

Genre: Literature, Drama

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As Swallows Fly Review

My experience reading this novel can best be described as quiet enthralment.

It is hard to believe As Swallows Fly is McMahon’s debut, such is the precision of his prose and his patient and nuanced character development. Even while depicting horrific events and deeply confronting subject matter, his narrative eschews ‘drama’ and instead zeroes in on the substance. By that, I mean the inner turmoil and insecurities of the perfectionist/high achiever, the outsider, the trauma survivor. The effect is haunting.

But do not for one minute think this novel lacks pace. McMahon taps into the subtle intrigue and suspense of everyday interactions so effectively. I found myself glued to As Swallows Fly‘s pages… utterly engrossed and reading for large stints at a time. In that respect, the reading experience comparable to Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

Both Malika and Kate are such moving and impactful characters. Both authentically flawed, their respective scars hover over their every thought and move, and yet they display such courage and bravery in navigating their everyday challenges. In this way, As Swallows Fly demonstrates so beautifully the peril in making judgements based on appearances and closing ourselves off to others, and reminds us we are all icebergs to some degree.

McMahon’s deft exploration of self-honesty, faith, judgement and female empowerment in As Swallows Fly strikes a chord with many highly topical societal issues. But – and this is key – it does so with a spirit of kindness, respect and dignity. Highly recommended reading.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 – Overall 4.5

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More As Swallows Fly Reviews

‘Intuitive and visceral and sharp as a scalpel. Malika will claim a chunk of your heart.’ – Kristina Olsson

‘Mcmahon’s rare insight and empathy make As Swallows Fly an unforgettable, compelling story of hope’ – Toni Jordan

‘A powerful, poignant and thought-provoking novel featuring an unforgettable main character in Kate. As Swallows Fly takes into the high-risk, high-stress world of surgery, with all of its attendant ambition and powerplays and impossible deadlines. A perfect book club novel and a remarkable achievement from a debut author!’ – Antoni Jach

About the Author, L P McMahon

L. P. McMahon was born in Melbourne. His writing career began as a medical student, and he has since won or been shortlisted for multiple national and regional short story competitions. He has travelled, lectured and published widely in his medical career, living and working in Oxford, Berlin, Pakistan, Newfoundland and New Zealand. He currently directs a busy medical department as Professor of Nephrology at Monash University. As Swallows Fly is his debut novel.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2021

* My receiving a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.

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