Creation is Govier’s speculation on what might have happened during a sparsely-documented period of John James Audubon’s life. It is known that in 1833 he journeyed to the area between Newfoundland and Labrador, doing research for his masterwork, The Birds of America. And it is known that while in that area, he met Royal Navy surveyor Captain Henry Bayfield, on a mission to map that difficult coastline. From there, Govier delves into Audubon’s rocky relationship with his wife and children, his romantic liaison with Maria Martin (who contributed botanical illustrations to his Birds), and contrasts Audubon’s driven, contradictory, and irresponsible character with Bayfield’s. Fans of literary fiction will not be deterred by the author’s use of an intrusive narrator, rapidly changing points of view, and frequent flashbacks, mixed liberally with excerpts from diaries and letters.
Reviewers in other media have praised Creation highly; I seem to be in the minority in not liking the book. I found Audubon to be an unlikable character. That could be historically accurate, but the other features of the book didn’t compensate for that problem. Nothing much happens: there’s a lot of conversation, self-reflection, and flashback. I was hoping for a more straightforward, less impressionistic tale. I did like the epilogue, which explained what happened to the characters afterwards. And the book is illustrated, a different touch for adult fiction. There are black and white photos of some of Audubon’s paintings, portraits of some of the characters, and photos of the Labrador/Newfoundland landscape.