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The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

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The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Published in: 1994
Literary Awards: Finalist for the 1994 National Book Award
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: The Bird Artist: A Novel

Set in Witless Bay in Newfoundland, a remote community, this is the story of how love and passion can end in murder.

Fabian Vas is a bird artist: He draws and paints the birds of Witless Bay, his remote Newfoundland coastal village home.  In the first sentence of the novel Fabian confesses to having killed the lighthouse keeper, Botho August. The rest of the narrative works backwards showing what events lead to the murder and how Fabian escaped hanging to tell his story.

The book is studded with detailed descriptions of the bird life in Witless bay and indeed the bay itself is a character, with its isolation allowing certain events to take place and for community justice to take the place of the law.

I gave this book 3 stars because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. They were all unlikeable in some way and I really find it hard to like a book where you can’t connect with a single character. What I did enjoy were the descriptions of nature, of the bird species, and of the harsh landscape of the island — landscape that made the inhabitants the kind of remote, cold people they were.

After finishing this book I discovered it was the first in a trilogy which seems rather strange to me since this book seemed to provide the complete story of Fabian, albeit it possibly a slightly surface view. This was not a book that ended on a cliffhanger or that left me with any burning unanswered questions. Instead, everything was all tied up nicely and in such a way that I don’t feel compelled to read the next 2 books — which probably says it all.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Bird Artist: A Novel

We want to hear from you. Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you want to read it?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for this comprehensive review. I was unfamiliar with this author, but your review led me to Amazon where I read a sample from the book. I found the author’s writing style very appealing, so I think I’ll give it a go. As a bird enthusiast and nature lover who was raised by two stoics, it just might be my kind of book!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 18, 2015
  2. Hello, again! I read The Bird Artist. I agree with your review. The novel was too nicely tied up. Characters were all eccentrics and lacked any discernible emotional life. So, yes, it was hard to warm up to them. And that abbreviated subplot with Cora in Halifax — it was neither a credible nor interesting device for advancing the plot. What I liked: the time period; the setting; the character of Orkney Vas. Although Orkney disappeared early in the book, the writer was able to deepen his character in two spare, non-concurrent paragraphs (describing his penchant for neatness, in one; alluding to Margaret in a comment to Fabian, in another). For an artist and first person narrator of the story, Fabian was a dull and colorless disappointment. He seemed absent of an inner life. Did not like him or Margaret’s radical transformation from hard drinker to damsel. I can’t imagine this novel as the beginning of a trilogy.

    Like

    September 5, 2015

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