Set in the early 20th Century, The Bird Artist tells the story of Fabian Vas, who paints birds. He also, as he tells us in the opening paragraph of the book, killed the lighthouse keeper in the small coastal Newfoundland village where he lives. The novel is an exploration of the story behind the murder, the relationships between the Vas family and the other villagers and how art and birds played a role in Fabian's redemption. It is full of wonderful details about the birds of the area and how to paint them.
Fabian Vas has a mentor Isaac Sprague with whom he has shared a long exchange of paintings and letters, which have helped him develop his skills and talent. Sprague is short on actual praise but his comments are always helpful: The most recent kingfisher ........ It was adequate. But the bird's reflection itself too closely resembled the actual bird's face. It wasn't even slightly distorted on the surface, so the texture of the water wasn't at all represented is a typical comment.
The novel is beautifully written and made me want to visit Newfoundland to see all these wonderful birds. I also wished the novel was illustrated.
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman published 1994 by Picador USA