Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer is a novel based on the life and research of Gwendolen Howard, a British naturalist and musician. It fictionalizes the journey of a woman who pursued her passion for music and birds at a time when women’s ambitions were throttled.
Gwendolen was known for her amateur studies on the behavior of birds that were published in various periodicals and two books under her pseudonym, Len Howard. After building a successful musical career as a violinist, she left London at the age of forty, to settle in the English countryside and study birds.
Coming from a bird-loving family, this was an inevitable progression for Howard. She wanted to study the behavior of birds when they were free. Her devotion towards her passion reflected in her relationship with the birds. The tits, robins, sparrows, and the other birds that lived in the garden of her cottage would fly in and out of the windows of her cottage freely and would even perch on her shoulders and play with her.
Meijer weaves biographical facts with fiction to produce a unique novel.
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While several passages about the behavior of the birds have their origin in anecdotes penned by Howard herself in her two best-selling books, much of her life has been imagined by Meijer. This provides an insight into Howard’s solitary life, her sensitive nature, and her fascination towards birds. Her relationship with Charles, the crow, during her childhood is particularly endearing and paves the way for her future studies on birds.
Bird Cottage is as much a book on birds, as it is a book of sounds. Howard notes the various sounds such as the cheery whistle of the robin, the soft single notes of the tits, and the chirrup notes of the sparrows in her anecdotes, which are aptly described by Meijer as well. I, especially, liked the counting games Howard played with the birds to demonstrate they are highly intelligent creatures. Howard’s meticulous description of the birds she studied is worth reading. In due course of time, Star and Baldhead—Howard’s most favorite Great tit companions—became my favorite too.
Besides bringing Howard’s avian companions to life, Meijer also describes the claustrophobic and limiting atmosphere of the twentieth century. The way women’s ambitions were bridled resulting in marriage to be the only logical conclusion of a woman’s life makes Howard’s passion for studying birds more admirable. Although it is sometimes slow-paced, Meijer’s poetic prose with many good phrases peppered throughout the book makes this an engaging read.
Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer is a moving tribute to a woman whose works must not be forgotten. I recommend it to anyone who appreciates a well-written literary fiction novel.
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Thanks to Netgalley for providing me a free e-ARC. I opted to provide an honest review on my blog. || Image credit – Background vector created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com