Review of “The Art of Taxidermy” by Sharon Kernot

This novella written in free verse is about a family dealing with multiple deaths. The heartache and loss of this family’s lives is counterpoised by the beauty of the prose. The young daughter, Lottie, is twelve when we first meet her. She has no one left in her immediate family but her father, although her Aunt Hilda helps to take care of her. Lottie is obsessed with the dead creatures she finds in the Australian outback, and wants to be a taxidermist. But it is not because she is morbid; rather, she sees taxidermy as a way to bring back the dead from the edge of decay. “The revival and re-creation of something that has expired,” she maintains, “is an honour and a gift.” She imagined, she said, all the dead “coming to life with the magic of taxidermy . . .”

Moreover, she muses:

“In those delicate
bones and teeth
were the elements
and minerals
of stars and stardust
and all of the people
I ever loved.”

Her Aunt Hilda tries to steer Lottie to pursuits “more appropriate” for girls. But Lottie loves science even beyond the psychological balm that taxidermy provides her. It is an uphill struggle for Lottie to get to pursue her own dreams, but at least her father, a scientist himself, eventually supports her. First, however, he has to get a handle on his own grief.

The language is often captivating and evocative, as with these passages:

“We arrived home beneath a sickle moon and faint suburban stars.”

“Her body is bent, her arms thin. Like a cubist rendition of herself, all squares, rectangles, triangles.”

Evaluation: This is a quiet little book, with its appeal sneaking up on you as you get caught up in the rhythms and images of natural life in Australia:

“Today the trees are full of flowers
and parrots.
Rainbow, musk and little lorikeets
hang from branches
like gaudy clowns,
squawking and chattering
as they strip the flowering gums . . . ”

Juxtaposed to “the bone-heavy ache of grief,” the blazing colors and warmth of the Outback that Lottie celebrates helps mitigate the darker colors of repeated loss, and lifts the mood of this lovely little book.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Text Publishing, 2019

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4 Responses to Review of “The Art of Taxidermy” by Sharon Kernot

  1. Jeanne says:

    This sounds necromancy-adjacent. Is it free verse or is it prose?

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I love free verse and would like to try this even though it sounds kind of sad.

  3. Beth F says:

    I love novels in verse of all sorts, but wonder if this is very sad. Still, as you say, the brightness of the Australian fauna and flora are there for balance.

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