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The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

The Bird Artist (1994)

by Howard Norman

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This is the story of Fabian Vas, a teenage boy in a very small town in Newfoundland, Canada, over 100 years ago. Although he has been sleeping regularly with Margaret, a girl four years older than he, his mother has secretly been planning for her son to wed his own fourth cousin whom her son has never met. The boy sees that his mother has taken to shacking up with the lighthouse keeper, Bothos August, while his dad was away for two months on work trip. This leads the boy to murder the lighthouse keeper (which we know as the book opens. No spoilers here).

The pace of this book is halting, and the story hugely interesting. There is an undercurrent of subtle, dry humor very much covered over by the harsh realities of life. Fabian is a bird artist. His lovely pictures of birds are purchased by magazines, while in his own life, family and friends shoot and eat birds (and are not reticent to let Fabian know this).

Names of so many people abound in this story. They are also odd. Fabian's dad is Orkney Vas; his mom is Alaric Banville. The lighthouse keeper is Botho August. We hear lots of names in this book but are not intended to remember most of them. The book also talks about the Beothuk, who were an indigenous people to Newfoundland. Perhaps the names in this book are of Beothuk origin (as are the songs that some of the characters sing or hum).

This is a captivating story. It is also a look at one of the more unusual mother-son relationships that I've encountered in a novel. I'd say to give this book a read! It is quite different from the run-of-the mill stories of small town life that I've read in th past. It's really a great book! ( )
  SqueakyChu | Jan 26, 2016 |

The Bird Artist Howard Norman

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 yet in the first sentence of the novel he 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. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
One of my favorite books all time. Wonderfully original and compelling story of early 20th century Newfoundland. The book The Shipping News wishes it had been. ( )
  jimnicol | Sep 26, 2014 |
The spare, dead-pan narration is at first attractive, but as the story develops, the writing, particularly the dialogue, comes across awkwardly. Characterizations are thin, they elicit no emotion from the reader - this one in any case. Behaviors don't fit circumstances, parts seem rushed, arbitrary. A fast read, and the concept had potential, just subpar execution of it. ( )
  JamesMScott | Apr 8, 2014 |
Such a different, yet compelling story, set before World War I in an isolated part of Canada, Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Fabian, grows up here, a place where everyone knows everyone else, where gossip is spread almost instantaneously, where it takes over a month a get a reply to a letter.

The novel starts with Fabian admitting to having killed someone, but this is so much more than a murder mystery. It is also a coming of age story, a story where the setting and Fabian's love for birds and the drawing of them, is a huge part of Fabian's life.

I loved the clean and clear prose, the characters names are so quirky, the story drew me in, quietly and slowly. I became immersed in this island and the lives of it's inhabitants. I absolutely adored the character of Margaret, she does and sees things in her own way which is hard to do on a small island. Also loved all the descriptions of the birds and I did look up several of these birds to see what they looked like. It was just an added bonus to this quiet but satisfying read. ( )
1 vote Beamis12 | Oct 7, 2013 |
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Suddenly, with extreme violence, he felt himself seized by the desire to be, rain or no rain, at any price, in the midst of the valleys: alone. - Giorgio Bassani, The Heron
For Jane and Emma
For George
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My name is Fabian Vas.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The setting is the bleak coastline of Newfoundland and the protagonist is Fabian Bass, an artistic type who paints birds when he is not building boats. Forced by his parents to abandon the woman he loves in order to marry a cousin, he revenges himself by murdering his mother's lover. By the author of Northern Lights.… (more)

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