BOOK REVIEW: MELISSA ASHLEY’S ‘THE BIRDMAN’S WIFE’

Too often I hear (usually from men) that women never did anything in history to write about. What they are generally referring to are those ‘great deeds’ of men who were able to dedicate their lives to and sustain an uninterrupted focus on their area of specialisation. Women’s yearnings were sidelined and their lives circumscribed by multiple childbirth.

A.H. Chisholm wrote a ‘complete’ biography of Elizabeth Gould in 1944. In contrast, Melissa Ashley has written a fictional biography, or biographical fiction, of her in The Birdman’s Wife, which revitalises Elizabeth, colouring in her passions, her struggles, her continual negotiation of the demands of being a working artist and a mother.

This beautifully written novel presents a ‘complete’ picture of a family unit—that one man’s crowning achievements were in fact a family enterprise. John Gould may have been able to strut about like a peacock, but his ‘story’ his more complete when put in context alongside the female of his species, their young, and the materials from which he made his nest.

(From Kali Napier’s blog at Kali Napier)