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Reviews of The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones

The Birdcatcher

by Gayl Jones

The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones X
The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2022, 216 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2023, 216 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

Legendary writer Gayl Jones returns with a stunning new novel about Black American artists in exile.

Gayl Jones, the novelist Toni Morrison discovered decades ago and Tayari Jones recently called her favorite writer, has been described as one of the great literary writers of the 20th century. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, Jones is publishing again. In the wake of her long-awaited fifth novel, Palmares, The Birdcatcher is another singular achievement, a return to the circles of her National Book Award finalist, The Healing.

Set primarily on the island of Ibiza, the story is narrated by the writer Amanda Wordlaw, whose closest friend, a gifted sculptor named Catherine Shuger, is repeatedly institutionalized for trying to kill a husband who never leaves her. The three form a quirky triangle on the white-washed island.

A study in Black women's creative expression, and the intensity of their relationships, this work from Jones shows off her range and insight into the vicissitudes of all human nature - rewarding longtime fans and bringing her talent to a new generation of readers.

Excerpt
The Birdcatcher

Ibiza. I have left Brazil and am living on the white-washed island of Ibiza with my friend Catherine Shuger, a sculptor who has been declared legally insane, and her husband, Ernest, a freelance writer of popular science articles. We are all expatriate Americans: exiles.

Standing on the terrace, sheltered in the smell of oranges and eucalyptus, washed in sunlight, you'd swear this was a paradise. But to tell the truth the place is full of dangers. The dangers, however, are not directed toward me but toward Ernest. You see, Catherine sometimes tries to kill her husband. It has been this way for years: He puts her into an asylum, thinks she's well, takes her out again, and she tries to kill him. He puts her in another one, thinks she's well, takes her out again, she tries to kill him: on and on. You'd think we'd learn by now; you'd think everybody'd learn, don't you? But somehow we keep the optimism, or the pretense, bring her out, and wait. She's like the fucking ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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As the novel progresses, the view widens to interrogate the larger structures of racism, art and, most importantly, friendship. While Amanda wonders why Ernest stays with Catherine, one might also wonder why Amanda gravitates to the couple over and over. Why has she inserted herself into this strange dynamic? Amanda is a somewhat unreliable narrator; her entanglement with Ernest and Catherine robs her of perspective and she rarely says anything direct about herself. Interspersed with her present-day observations of her friends are her memories, which ricochet through anecdotes involving Ernest and Catherine, the dissolution of her own marriage, her brief relationship with a man who was once a healer but gave it up when he was unable to heal himself. We see impressions of Amanda's life in passing and she is always, it seems, fleeing...continued

Full Review (840 words)

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(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

The Guardian
As a meditation on female creativity, it forms a fascinating bookend to Jones's debut, the bruising Corregidora.

Booklist (starred review)
"The remarkable latest release by acclaimed novelist and poet Jones...Her prose is captivating, at moments coolly observational and at others profoundly intimate; the delicate balance is the mark of a truly great storyteller. An intriguing, tightly crafted, and insightful meditation on creativity and complicated friendships.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Jones continues her marvelous run after last year's Pulitzer finalist Palmares with the gloriously demented story of an artist who keeps trying to kill her husband....Jones, implicitly defiant, draws deeply from classic and global literature—a well-placed reference to Cervantes's windmills leaves the reader's head spinning. And like one of Amanda's inventive novels, this one ends on a surprising and playful turn. It ought to be required reading.

The Boston Globe
"This is a brilliant and unsparing examination of the burdens we place on friendship and marriage, the way that creative genius is misperceived as madness, the clumsy way mental health is addressed, the scourge of racism, and the alchemy of folklore and legacy bound in the secrets we hide."

Kirkus Reviews
Jones' mercurial, often inscrutable body of work delivers yet another change-up to readers' expectations.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Hemingway's Islands in the Stream

Ernest Hemingway's Islands in the Stream, Scribner Classics edition with red cover The Birdcatcher by Pulitzer finalist Gayl Jones features numerous allusions to literary figures and artists. The narrator, Amanda, is a writer, and her friend Catherine, who has repeatedly tried to murder her husband, is a sculptor. While contemplating Catherine's relationship with her husband, Ernest, Amanda references the work of an author who shares his first name:

"I started thinking of something else I read once in a book by Hemingway, his island book. That painting was practiced by better people than writing. She was a sculptor though. Same difference. She'd tried to kill him, and yet somehow the idea of Catherine as the 'better person' always ran through my head. Because of that book? Well, who are you in the next guy's ...

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Read-Alikes

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