Tag-Archive for ◊ Unicorn ◊

Author:
• Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Martin Davies grew up in North West England. He travelled a great deal from the Middle East to India. Today he is a BBC television senior producer and editor and lives in South West London.

His bibliography :
Mrs Hudson and the Spirits Curse published in 2004.
Mrs Hudson and the Malabar Rose published in 2005.
The Conjuror’s Bird published in 2005.
The Unicorn Road published in 2009.

The Conjuror’s Bird is based on historical facts with genuine people from the 18th century like the well-known explorer, botanist and patron of natural sciences, the wealthy Lincolnshire landowner, Baronet Sir Joseph Banks, who was part of Captain James Cook’s first grand voyage around the world on the “Endeavour”, from 1768 to 1771. He was also the unofficial scientific adviser to king George III.

Other known people of the time are Banks’s best friend, Dr. Daniel Carlsson Solander, the Swedish botanist and natural scientist, his Danish friend, Johann Christian Fabricius, professor of natural history and world famous entomologist, and his German friend, the naturalist, ethnologist and travel writer, Johann Georg Forster.

Upon his return to England from Captain Cook’s second expedition in 1774 in the South Seas, Forster offers Banks the well-preserved single specimen of the extinct Ulieta bird.

The novel focuses on the Ulieta bird which became extinct in the 18th century. The extinction of species remains a controversial subject in our 21st century, with its many on-going debates about how humans are destroying the world’s flora and fauna and therefore creating a dangerous unbalance in the ecosystem. A big and serious problem that existed once upon a time and still exists today with apparantly no way of stopping it, unfortunately.

The Conjuror’s Bird intertwines history, romance and thrilling detective pursuit. It’s a biographical fiction mystery novel with literary merit and an engaging, suspenseful story, well-written with intense emotions.

In his novel, the author runs in parallel, by alternating chapters and by using a different typeface, an interlinked story of three centuries: the 18th, the 20th and the 21st, where the past meets the present. The story of the taxidermist, John Fitzgerald, who goes on a detective mission, hunting for the only specimen left of the Ulieta bird, which once belonged to Joseph Banks but disappeared from his collection without any explanation and was never seen again.

If it wasn’t for a coloured drawing done by Forster’s son, Georg, which can be seen in The Natural History Museum in London, no one would have known of its existence. The second story being the love tale of Joseph Banks with the mysterious Miss B—n, the main link being the elusive Ulieta bird and the unknown Miss B. with the striking green eyes, who seems to be the key to finding the long disappeared stuffed bird.

The third story being the discovery of the Congo peacock by James Chapin, the American naturalist,twenty three years after coming across a single peacock feather earlier in the 20th century.

Another link in the novel is the two unfulfilled love stories which stand two centuries apart. The strong and impossible passion that Joseph Banks once shared with Miss B. (Mary Burnett?) who was a woman well ahead of her time in Georgian society, and the infatuation that John Fitzgerald and the ambitiously independent Gabriella used to have for each other. Both loves seem to have ended due to a child, a daughter.

The characters are well depicted, the novel competently structured and a successful amount of research attained. A very pleasant read.

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Author:
• Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Tracy Chevalier was born in 1962 and grew up in Washington DC. She obtained a degree in English from Oberlin College in Ohio and worked as a Reference Book editor for a few years before quitting in 1993. She got an MA in Creative Writing in 1994 from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

She moved to England in1984 and stayed there since. She now lives with her husband and son in London.

She is chairwoman of The Society of Authors and is known for being a historical novelist. She said the reason why she likes this genre, is because she feels comfortable with the good, lasting value of the past.

Tracy Chevalier, has written six novels to date :
The Virgin Blue, published in 1997.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, published in 1999.
Falling Angels, published in 2001.
The Lady and the Unicorn, published in 2003.
Burning Bright, published in 2007.
Remarkable Creatures, published in 2009.

Girl with a Pearl Earring was made into a film which was released in 2003, starring Colin Firth as Johannes Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as Griet. It won several awards.

Although Tracy Chevalier likes Vermeer’s thirty five paintings because of their beauty, the mystery surrounding them and also because of what the expressive solitary women accomplishing their daily domestic duties convey to the viewer. Girl With a Pearl Earring, one of Vermeer’s masterpieces, was the painting that inspired her the most because of the hypnotic and enigmatic look on the girl’s face.

Tracy Chevalier had a poster of the Girl With A Pearl Earring painting on her bedroom wall since she was nineteen-years-old. The mysterious look on the “Dutch Mona Lisa’s” face intrigued her to the extent that one day she decided to reveal what might have been behind this portrait by combining history and art with imagination.

The author had to do careful research to successfully capture Dutch peoples’ lives in those days, the landscapes and the surroundings in Delft. She went to the great length of taking a painting class while writing the novel in order to learn about the art of painting and accurately describe the mixing of the colours, the multiple technics, the different shades and their effects and all the intricacies involved.

She also gathered some information about Vermeer’s painting in their finest details from the woman who restored the painting for the 1996 Vermeer exhibition.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, is a novel set in seventeen century Delft in Holland about Vermeer’s eponymous painting. The fictitious story is built on a historical background, depicting life during this golden age of Dutch art. Vermeer being a mysterious painter, since very little is known about his life, gave the author the opportunity with her magic wand to mix the fanciful with reality and fill in the unknown gaps in his biography and therefore build an imaginary, compelling story about Vermeer’s portrait of Girl with a Pearl Earring as being his maid, Griet, who was also his assistant and model.

The novel is narrated by sixteen-year-old, solitary, innocent, naïve but intelligent Griet, who, due to her father’s fatal accident, becomes a maid in Vermeer’s household in order to support her family.

She is spellbound by her master from the first time she sets eyes on him but being aware of her position, she knew her place and therefore had to keep her feelings at bay.

Her quiet love and devotion to him are described in great subtlety during her posing for him, but unfortunately, the author described Vermeer so engulfed in his art, that he was oblivious to the outside world. The fact that he was not insensitive to Griet’s charms and her magnetic attraction to him and his paintings was implied by the author in a subtle way but never in words.

Girl With a Pearl Earring is a highly emotional novel without suspense or twists but is elegantly and poetically written with a great deal of subtlety, sensibility, sensuality and nineteen century romanticism. At times, the unsaid conveyed strongly the feelings of the protagonists.

The author with her description of suggestive, luminescent colours, seems to have succeeded the right oil brush strokes effect she was striving for. She wanted to “achieve with words what Vermeer achieved in paintings: simple writing, uncluttered and without superfluous characters”.

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