A quick yet detail-packed read: The Art of Taxidermy took me by surprise and changed my mind about reading verse for pleasure.
Lottie is fascinated with death. She collects birds, lizards and other small dead animals she finds, trying preserve them, to hold onto the life they once had. Her aunt tries to put a stop to this worrying obsession, but her father can see a scientist’s mind at work, and he introduces her to the art of taxidermy.
For Lottie, the beauty and tenderness she finds in her preserved creatures provide a way for her to feel close to the mother she lost.
I knew very little going into this book. The description sounded fascinating and unlike anything I have read before, and so I wasted no time diving in.
The verse format took me by surprise (although had I paid more attention in the first place I would have anticipated it). However, I believe this was a good thing for me, as I have been known to avoid verse in the past. I am glad I didn’t this time — the format was beautiful, and demonstrated the huge talent Kernot has.
The writing was well thought out. Sharon Kernot portrays so much emotion through her carefully chosen words. Some sections would only be two or three verses long — and yet they were packed with inferences that had me wondering.
The story unfolds from Lottie’s point of view. I found her age difficult to judge throughout the book, as there is really only one indicator that stood out to me. It could be the format that made it difficult for a particular voice to come through for Lottie. Her thought pattern and the way she voiced questions often seemed simplistic, making her appear younger than she was.
There is much mystery in this book, with Kernot hinting at things that the reader must work out for themselves. I really enjoyed this element, as different truths came to light with the more I read. A definite explanation was then given towards the end of the book, which connected all the elements more firmly.
I thought the characters were interesting in that they are different from the usual characters I read. Lottie’s family are German, but they moved to Australia before Lottie was born to escape Nazi Germany. Lottie’s grandfather and father were imprisoned in Australia, with her mother and grandmother left to work the land. This backstory was incredibly rich. It meant that Lottie had issues to navigate in her own life because of her heritage. I found it fascinating to read something from such a perspective.
The element of taxidermy was unique also. It weaves through each poem beautifully and helps in portraying each character, through their reaction to Lottie’s unconventional interest. It is an unusual skill and career path to Lottie’s aunt — as it is for many of us today. However, I found it refreshing to read about something I know little of.
Kernot explores so many themes and so many different and interesting ideas that I could end up talking about them for days! Instead, I suggest picking up the book for yourself and exploring Lottie’s world.
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