Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Bird Cloud

Above the snooty sink hung a mirror with high-wattage bulbs blazing straight into one's face rather like something John Gielgud might have had in his dressing room. For an aging woman it was frightening rather than useful. Annie Proulx
I like the fact that this book is a memoir rather than an autobiography. Annie Proulx focuses on a particular event in her life - the construction of her house at Bird Cloud near Medicine Bow in Wyoming. She wanted a house built to her specifications, using natural materials where possible, with plenty of space for her large collection of books. She wanted to be able to write without interruption, spread out old maps and photographs, view the cliff face in the changing light and watch the eagles from her window.

Unfortunately, things didn't go quite to plan. There were problems with builders, architects and sub-contractors, spiralling expenses and long, long waits for materials to arrive and work to be completed. Not to mention the fact that the area is isolated and exposed to high Wyoming winds. Bird Cloud is on the North Platte River near the town of Saratoga on the western slope of Medicine Bow. The wildlife is spectacular and Proulx weaves in details of a clever mountain lion, tagging elks for a conservation project and a whole chapter about pine cones. This book reminds me a little of The Blue Jay's Dance by Louise Erdrich and has reawakened my interest in Annie Proulx. A few years ago I read several of her novels back to back and then got a bit depressed with the grim realities of life for ranchers, cowboys and drifters. One can only stand so much reality!

Now I want to re-read her wonderful novel The Shipping News.
I also have Barbara Kingsolver's Homeland to read and my author of the month is that queen of American landscape writers Willa Cather. Fabulous picture of her, don't you think?


Cath said...

Oddly enough, I have Homeland on reserve at the library at the moment. Just waiting for it to come in. I had Bird Cloud out from the library late last year but took it back unread. I'll have to grab it again.

Audrey said...

I do think so! She looks like somehow I'd like to know.

Sunday Taylor said...

I remember that I really enjoyed "The Shipping News' and am intrigued by this memoir. Thanks for letting us know about it.

Anbolyn said...

I am in love with Cather's writing and that photo of her is wonderful! I'm glad she's your writer of the month. I'm reading The Song of the Lark at the moment and think it is brilliant.
I haven't read many of Proulx's stories because they are so brutal, but I like her writing. I will see if my library has Bird Cloud - a whole chapter devoted to pine cones sounds wonderful!

Clare said...

This Proulx memoir sounds wonderful, am going to look it out now, thanks!
I loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, I'll have to get around to reading more of her work.

Cathy at PotterJotter said...

I do think! I noticed it straight away and thought 'wonderful hat, wonderful giant hat-pin'! xC

lifeonthecutoff said...

That IS a fabulous picture of Willa Cather - one I've not seen before.

We read The Shipping News when it was first out for our book group - and had quite a discussion as I recall. Barbara Kingsolver is a favorite author of mine, though I admit to plodding through The Poisonwood Bible. It must have been a mood I was in at the time I read it.

I'm intrigued by this memoir.

Joyce in KS said...

I enjoyed reading Bird Cloud. Have not checked out any of her other writings. I HAVE read Willa Cather's writings however. Call for a reread one of these days.

Rachel said...

I so enjoyed reading American literature last year, Nicola, and you have reminded me of two authors I want to read more of. I love that photo of Willa Cather! Such a spirited woman. The focus of all these authors on the harsher landscapes and lifestyles of the less populated areas of America fascinates me. I hadn't heard of Homeland before - will look it up now!

LizF said...

Oh so that's what Willa Cather looked like! Having read a couple of her books, I thought that I would like her but the photo sort of confirms it!
I love the sound of Bird Cloud - I have only read a couple of her collections of short stories and she is certainly uncompromising but I grew up watching Westerns and have an abiding interest in Wyoming and Montana so this would be a perfect read for me!
Thank you for the recommendations.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Cath, I still haven't started Homeland, keep getting distracted by other books!

Audrey, I'd love to know what colour the hat is - I think red!

Sunday, I loved The Shipping News, too. I like the earthy quality to her writing. Must start my re-read, soon.

Anbolyn, oh I loved The Song of the Lark, that's the one about the opera singer. I picked up a beautiful edition of O Pioneers in Oxford last week but didn't buy it. I'd already gone over my budget!

Clare, yes The Poisonwood Bible is one of my all-time favourite novels. I don't think Kingsolver has ever equalled it.

Cathy, ah yes, why don't we have hat pins now - or even hats come to that!

lifeonthecuff, yes, in many of her photos she looks austere but she looks so carefree and young in this one.

Joyce, I'm still a little behind in my Cather reading. I've read most of the novels but none of her essays or short stories. My favourite novel is The Professor's House.

Rachel, I did enjoy your American literary posts. I just find over and over again that I turn to American novelists both contemporary and historical.

Lizf, if you are interested in Wyoming you would definitely enjoy Bird Cloud. There are lots of lovely details about the people and the place. Do let me know how you get on with it.

LizF said...

Finally finished Bird Cloud - and you were absolutely right about it.

I haven't read any Proulx for a while, and I had forgotten how excellent she is at spirit of place and weaving humans and animal life into the topography and weather to build up a vivid picture of a place.

She is certainly a redoubtable character too - I'm not sure that I would have had the resolve to keep going with the project despite all the hold-ups and problems she had with it. I'm not sure that I would have had the courage (or the bank balance!) to have attempted it at all!

Thanks for introducing me to such a beguiling read - I am now reading Barbara Kingsolver's Homeland (one story in) with Blue Jay's Dance (which I already own having been introduced to Louise Erdrich by you as well!)the next in line!

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Liz, yes with Bird Cloud I couldn't help but feel that we weren't told the whole story. Loved the eagles, though! I still haven't started Homeland - you're way ahead of me - I particularly want to know how you get on with the Bule Jay's Dance. Love that book.