“In a life so well-documented, these next few months form a rare gap. It is as if the dark cloud and fog Audubon sails into transcends mere weather, and becomes a state of mind. As if Labrador itself (or its weather) swallows the story.”
His need to capture the fugitive colours of birds pushed John James Audubon into impossible places, none more dangerous than the fog-ridden coast of Labrador in the summer of 1833. In mesmerizing prose, novelist Katherine Govier explores this fateful summer in the life of a man as untamed as his subjects.
Running two steps ahead of the bailiff, alternately praised and reviled by critics, John James Audubon set himself the audacious task of drawing, from nature, every bird in North America. The result was his masterpiece, The Birds of America, which he and his family published and sold to subscribers on both sides of the Atlantic. In June 1833, he enlisted his son and a party of young gentlemen to set sail for nesting grounds no ornithologist had ever seen, in the treacherous passage between Newfoundland and Labrador.
Fogbound at Little Natashquan, he encounters Captain Henry Wolsey Bayfield of the Royal Navy, whose mission is to chart the labyrinthine coast to make it safe for sea traffic. Bayfield is an exacting and duty-bound aristocrat; the charismatic Audubon spins tales to disguise his dubious parentage and lack of training. Bayfield is a confirmed bachelor; Audubon is a married man in love with his young assistant. But the captain becomes the artist’s foil and his measuring stick, his judge and, oddly, the recipient of his long-held secrets.
In this atmospheric and enthralling novel, Katherine Govier recreates the summer in which “the world’s greatest living bird artist” finally understood the paradox embedded in his art: that the act of creation was also an act of destruction.
From the Hardcover edition.