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The Bird Artist: A Novel Paperback – March 15, 1995
Pierced by the Sun
A gripping tale of murder and redemption by the author of Like Water for Chocolate. Learn More
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There are echoes of Vladimir Nabokov's infamous narrator, Humbert Humbert, in Fabian's confessional tone, witty humor, and emotional detachment from the series of bizarre events he describes. Set at the turn of the century in a remote cod-fishing community, The Bird Artist is a love story of sorts, filled with curious characters and a chowder restaurant. The men wear "knitted underwear all year round lined with fleece calico" and periodically escape the island to pursue their livelihoods on the sea. But the women are land bound. Helen Twombly suspects fellow villagers of stealing her milk bottles. Alaric Vas suffers from arthritis that no liniment relieves and plots her son's arranged marriage with a fourth cousin in Richibucto, New Brunswick. Meanwhile, Fabian's childhood love, Margaret Handle, propels herself and the plot forward with unwieldy energy. How did things for a mild-mannered man who just likes "to wake up early, wash my face, and get out and draw birds" go so wrong?
Norman, a folklorist and naturalist, presents us with the possible explanations in the form of fine details from an island life he researched while living in a remote Inuit whale-hunting community. He carefully examines the inner isolation of his characters. The severe landscape and the weather serve as the perfect metaphor. If you're looking for linguistic pyrotechnics, Norman's economy won't suit you. In The Bird Artist--a finalist for the 1994 National Book Award--there is as much to admire on the page as what's not. --Cristina Del Sesto
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
The plot unfolds like an idiot plodding. As much colour is invested in the description of place as it is in the lurid circumstances of the story - not a great deal.
And yet I reckon it works. The lonely boy who has a feel for the fine detail of feathers on a wing, but cannot see love when it stands before his eyes, was convincing to me. The story is his confession. There's no sentimentality. The language is restrained. It fits the buttoned down nature of Witless Bay where formal courtesies struggle to cope with the untidy passions that lie at the heart of the tale.
Relentless, remorseless, restrained...the book makes no appeal to our emotions, but stirs them just the same. Highly recommended for a weekend when the fire is glowing and the weather closing in.
The book opens with the admission that the narrator, Fabian Vas, is both a bird artist of no great renown and the murderer of the lighthouse-keeper, Botho August. Rather than a trite literary gimmick, these assertions are in fact the lenses through which the main character sees himself, and also form the catalysts which comprise his fall from grace and akward redemption. He is, simultaneously, absolutely ordinary and uniquely intriguing as an individual, and the author (Norman) captures this with natural grace and ease in Fabians narration. The supporting characters of the novel read like familiar archetypes somehow miscast from their typical roles, from the Annie Oakley-esque lover Margaret to Fabian's royal and tragic mother, Alaric. They are made all the more interesting in the ways in which they say and do things that are both unexpected and perfectly natural. In this way Norman artfully captures the ways in which truth can be stranger than fiction, making for a much more fanciful and yet believable fiction than The Shipping News.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I've read it thanks to D.Jones, and most grateful. His taste was perfect.Published 2 months ago by Zykova Galina
Perhaps his best story - but then all of his stories are memorable.Published 8 months ago by Maggie Blue
Romantic fable for adults under climate stress... a tad depressing...Published 9 months ago by B. Neswald
Reminded me of "Shipping News" - another novel taking place in Newfoundland.Published 11 months ago by vol1967
"The Bird Artist" is well written -- crisp, clean prose, tight dialogue -- but it suffers from one unforgivable flaw; all of the characters are so deeply unlikable that... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Gordon P. Bonnet
Though judging a book by its cover is ill-advised, assessing The Bird Artist by its first paragraph is a safe bet. Read more