Cover Image: The Birdman's Wife

The Birdman's Wife

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Member Reviews

I’m afraid I not finish this book. I found  it too descriptive and not enough happened to keep it interesting. Stopped at 15%. Just not for me, sorry.
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I found this book fascinating even though  my knowledge of birds is very limited!
Elizabeth Coxen was born in 1804 and became the wife of John Gould, a famous English ornithologist and bird artist. The novel is well researched and gives us a clear understanding of the difficulties of being an artist, wife, and mother in those times. The sacrifices she made- moving to Australia to help her husband, leaving behind her three youngest children- were enormous. Her artistic talents were obviously outstanding but always in the shadow of her husband. 
Melissa Ashley written a tribute to an amazing woman in this detailed and thoughtful novel.
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In just 12 years of marriage Elizabeth Gould travelled the globe, painted hundreds of birds and raised six children. All this in the 1800's! She died in childbirth and her work was published under her husband's name in John Gould's "Birds of Australia." 

In the "Birdman's Wife", Melissa Ashley introduces us to Elizabeth Gould - wife, mother, artist, footnote. We meet Elizabeth in 1828, when she first encounters John Gould at the Zoological Society in London. Elizabeth spent years collaborating with John, including some two years in Australia (1838), classifying and illustrating native birdlife.

However, this was not as glamorous as it sounds - with the public's fascination with the exotic, many artists embarked on journeys to parts known and unknown, all in the name of science. And it was no easy task to represent nature in it's own environment - these creatures were often caught, killed, stuffed and posed so that they could be diligently documented. 

Ashley thoroughly immersed herself in her research (which formed the basis of her PhD), and this shows in the meticulous details, which at times makes for rather laborious reading.
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Thank you for the chance to review this book, however, unfortunately, I was unable to read and review this title before it was archived.
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I’m in the tiniest of minorities regarding The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley.

I didn’t like it.

There was too much of what irritates me about (some) historical fiction. Specifically:

1. Info dumping – yeah, the research has been done down to the tiniest detail. But please don’t remind me of those details over and over again. And please don’t tell me every single detail you discovered about the time period you’re writing about.

The puddle on the living-room floor shimmered like glass and without warning Henry ran through it, his footprints shining on the floorboards. If I had a dropper, I could have siphoned it up, I thought. The straw-coloured liquid was a highly effective fixative for grinding pigment, and boys’ urine was still sold by art suppliers for such a purpose…

‘The Governor relished our discussion about the scientific curiosities of the settlement. I think I provided a welcome break from his administrative challenges, from the threats of the English Parliament to put a stop to the transportation of prisoners to New South Wales. Sir John fears all convicts will be sent to Van Dieman’s land, turning it into a dumping ground. Apparently the resources here, what with the drought in New South Wales, are stretched to breaking point.’

2. Awkward dialogue – you know in soap operas how the script writers deliberately repeat details so that new viewers can pick up the storyline? For example, instead of someone walking into a room and saying, “How are you?”, they say “Hello Brooke, how was your day after your confrontation with Ridge? Is he furious about you betraying him with Eric?” It makes dialogue so clumsy and unnatural.

‘The final work seems well worth the sacrifice,’ Mr Darwin pronounced, tapping a neatly-clipped fingernail on his chin. ‘I’d be glad to see one of these magnificent creatures alive.’
‘I agree. Many a time I dreamed of the quetzal coming to life, particularly when I began to paint its sublime feathers. I’m flattered you think I’ve captured the essence in some way.’

3. It’s the ‘olden days’, let’s make the language flowery – a tough one because some authors pull off period language superbly but if it’s not done well, it’s painful.

…Reverend Ewing insisted there was no time to tarry. The hour nigh for hunting, we made haste disembarking the wagon…

…promenaded the banks of the Derwent, gazing into the tempestuous sky stretched over the sapphire harbour.

2/5 Sorry fans….

I received my copy of The Birdman’s Wife from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Loved this book.. The passion for her work and her husband and to leave her children behind was well written. The detail of the birds was well researched but was easy to understand. Thank you
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A suburb story of Elizabeth Gould, the wife of Australian ornithologist, John Gould, and the illustrator of his books. The detail may be too much for some readers, but as a bird watcher myself (in a very small way, but married to a man for whom it is a passion!) and as a lover of Australia and its amazing wildlife, this made it more fascinating for me. The vignettes of other scientists of the time were well done and added to the pleasure. 4.5 stars.
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