This was a long overdue idea for a book, and I was fascinated by Elizabeth Gould’s life. But I found the story oddly flat, and perhaps a little too dependant on a PhD thesis.  

the-birdmans-wifeJohn Gould has long been “the birdman”, with his massive work The Birds of Australia for decades the definitive guide to our native birdlife.

But the conventional view of him as responsible for the now-iconic bird illustrations in his books is definitively thrown out in this novel, which traces the life of his wife, Elizabeth.

In this, Elizabeth steps boldly out from husband’s giant shadow to take her own place as a historically important avian artist and adventurer.

She married the energetic and charismatic Gould in 1929, and soon started on what would be her life’s work of illustrating her husband’s collection of birds, while producing eight children, two of whom died.

When he travelled to Australia in 1838 to produce his seven-volume masterwork, Elizabeth went on the demanding two-year journey with him, taking only her eldest boy, Henry, and giving birth to her seventh child during the expedition.

She died soon after she returned to England, in the days after the birth of her eighth child.

Based on Ashley’s PhD on Elizabeth, the book is carefully researched, but spends quite a lot of time describing the processes of killing, describing and preparing birds, which makes some sections a bit slow.

This book was published in September 2016. My review was first published in the Herald Sun’s Weekend magazine.