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The Art of Taxidermy

by Sharon Kernot

March 7, 2019.Beth.2 Likes.0 Comments
I found the constant line breaks to be jarring and impacted on the loveliness of the ideas.  I read it too fast and it was over before it really had a chance to impact on me.

The Art of Taxidermy is a lyrical book that focusses on love and grief, written entirely in verse. Charlotte is the main character, a young girl trying to deal with the death of her mother in Australia in the 1960’s. Alongside her constant companion, Annie, Charlotte finds her “specimens”, animals that have died, and attempts to preserve them. While her father believes her to have a scientific mind, her Aunt Hilda is horrified and tries to get her to behave more like a girl instead of a ghoul, often going to cruel lengths. The story also touches on the internments camps in Australia for the German, Japanese and Italian immigrants during WWII, as well as the stolen generation.

If I’m honest, I picked this book up solely for the cover and title without actually turning it over to read the back. So while I knew the cover was beautiful and the title was intriguing, I had no idea that it was entirely in verse. It was interesting, I’ve never read a novel in verse before, and I almost put the book down after the first few pages. The rhythm felt unnatural and difficult to read, and I felt like I was galloping through the story, unable to slow myself down.

After a while though I discovered that the story was lovely and slow, full of grief and loss, as well as being weird and creepy and odd. Charlotte, the narrator, comes across as strange and dreamlike, looking at her world through a haze of sadness. Nothing in the story seems quite right, and the most real character was her Aunt Hilda who desperately tried to keep her in the land of the living.

There was a lot of emotion in the story, and each character felt laden down with their own grief. The characterisation was great, especially as the author was using the viewpoint of a child as well as a story that wasn’t very long. Oma, Father, Aunt Hilda, Annie and Jeffrey all felt like complete characters, despite their limited page time. I really enjoyed how the twists and turns of the story were revealed, and how Charlotte dealt with them the second time around. I also really liked the headings to the poems. I felt they added little signposts to the story, creating meaning out of just a few words and directing the reader to what they needed to see.

Personally, I would have liked this book better if it had been written in prose as a short story. I found the constant line breaks to be jarring and impacted on the loveliness of the ideas.  I read it too fast and it was over before it really had a chance to impact on me. The book was drenched in grief and sadness, and the quick ending didn’t leave much time for a resolution. I liked the book, but I wouldn’t want to read it again, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it. 

Overall this was a book filled with lovely imagery but I found it difficult to immerse myself in the verse and the story. It was a quick read with interesting characters, but ended too swiftly and didn’t dispel the intense sadness the book developed.

Categories: Book Review

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