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The Conjurer's Bird


The Conjurer's Bird Cover

ISBN13: 9781400097340
ISBN10: 1400097347
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. What stylistic differences separate the sections of the novel set in the 1700s and those set in the present?

2. Is this a particularly English story, or could the novel be just as naturally set in the United States? Why or why not?

3. Each major character in the novel experiences the intersection of discovery, science, and “the vagaries of chance” (p. 374). Joseph Banks “came to realize later that discovery was not a science” (p. 16). Mary Burnett “did not expect to be noticed. Discovery is not a science; there is too much chance in it” (p. 17). And Fitz believes that “the discovery of most things comes down to luck. People often feel uncomfortable about that. They want discovery to be driven by something more meaningful than coincidence” (p. 333). Is the author using scientific discovery as a metaphor here? What various personal discoveries are made in the course of the story and how much do they depend on random chance?

4. How would you describe Joseph Bankss character? Is his fury at Marys departure reasonable, despite the fact that the entire plot is his idea and she only leaves one day prior to the agreed-upon departure date? Does the following passage suggest that he never believed she would actually do it: “By running off ahead of him she had placed him in an impossible position, and as a result he had been forced to give up his greatest adventure. If he had sailed with Cook, he reasoned, all would be well. But her rashness had made it impossible. It was intolerable, and it was not of his making” (p. 298)? Why does the author include the section about Bankss equanimity with “the smiling brown people of the southern seas” (p. 102)?

5. What does Potts hope to gain by sending the Martha Ainsby letter to Fitz? What simple trick makes the letter so misleading?

6. What does it reveal about Mary that “as she watched her father edging toward ruin, she was aware of her love for him like a sharpening pain. The more fallible he revealed himself to be, the more she loved him” (p. 148) and “she watched him slowly breaking down, and the pain of her love for him grew sharper. She knew she would accept any suffering for his sake . . .” (p. 152)? Is this brand of love naïve or generous? How does her love for Banks compare to her love for her father?

7. Is Banks in love with Mary? Or is he really in love with his work?

8. Fitz traces his grandfathers notorious quest for an elusive African peacock as a parallel story to his own. What do the two tales have in common? How does Fitz find hope in his grandfathers story despite its tragic underpinnings?

9. Fitz notes the irony inherent in our societys neurotic recording of ephemera: “We live in a society that is strangely superstitious about written records. Even while were content to countenance the tearing down of rain forests and the destruction of countless unknown organisms every day, we hold on grimly to our documents and papers. Few of us are immune to this” (pp. 164—65). Do you agree with his assessment? What benefits to nature, if any, does this ruthless recording offer?

10. After being ensconced at Richmond, why does Mary go out of her way to remind Joseph that she “is no longer what they call a maiden” (p. 176)?

11. What “unwonted clarity” accompanies Fitzs anger after his bedroom is ransacked (p. 193)? What does he do with this revelation?

12. The mystery of Fitzs personal tragedy and the mystery of Mary Burnetts disappearance are each revealed to hinge on a child. How? Why, in each case, does the issue involving the child throw the romantic relationship off kilter? Did this bridge between the historical and the modern stories surprise you?

13. Can Fitzs final hoax, designed to put Potts and Anderson out of their misery, be construed as ethical in any way?

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Gregorio Roth, January 6, 2010 (view all comments by Gregorio Roth)
The book was sublimely stirring but I was not carried away by the streams the author conjured. I loved the subject matter; that of exploration of the beauty found in common misplaced things. However, I never got to that moment where I lost myself in the words of the author; moments of surprise were deadened. I wanted to really like this book, but found myself asleep on the coach.
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mgewrites, December 21, 2007 (view all comments by mgewrites)
The Conjurer’s Bird by Martin Davies is a fascinating story of taxidermist John Fitzpatrick’s search for the stuffed remains of the mysterious ulieta Bird. In the story there is a mystery surrounding not only the remains of the stuffed bird, but of some priceless paintings that were thought to be in its display box. Intercut with Fitzpatrick’s story of the search, is the story of Joseph Banks’ journey with Captain Cook; his engagement and then sudden cancellation of his engagement to be married; and his affair with a mysterious woman with startling green eyes and the birth of their daughter. Banks was an actual character in history and he reigned as president of the Royal Society for 42 years. This story is based on some true facts given in the back of the book. Martin has told a highly entertaining and intriguing tale following two time lines that are carefully woven together making this book unique among many you will read.
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Product Details

Davies, Martin
Three Rivers Press (CA)
Biographical fiction
Nature stories
Literature-A to Z
fiction;mystery;historical fiction;historical;joseph banks;novel;naturalists;romance;birds
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.2 x 1.1 in 0.65 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Conjurer's Bird Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 400 pages Three Rivers Press (CA) - English 9781400097340 Reviews:
"Review" by , "An ambitious mystery...[Martin] slips in descriptions so deft, readers can smell and touch his scenes....As the novel's past and present begin to fuse amid unexpected twists — the book becomes increasingly compelling."
"Review" by , "Cunningly spins two stories....[An] absorbing mystery....The modern story's tension and its narrator's reticence contrast perfectly with Davies's assured depiction of eighteenth-century art, science, and exploration all intersecting on the shifting terrain of emotion."
"Review" by , "[An] enticing blend of fact and historical fiction....The Conjurer's Bird is in the end a perfect alternative to the plethora of routine, forgettable mystery novels."
"Synopsis" by , At once a gripping mystery and rich love story set inn two time periods against a stunning naturalist backdrop, this novel tells the story of an 18th-century naturalist given a rare bird, and of a present-day conservationist who tries to relocate the species' only known remains.
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