The Art of Taxidermy
About the book
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. The beauty and tenderness Lottie finds in her preserved creatures provide a way for her to feel close to the mother she lost. An exquisitely imagined verse novel about sadness, and the way art can help us make sense of it all.
About the author
Sharon Kernot writes poetry and fiction. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals, magazines and anthologies including Island, Mascara Literary Journal, Best Australian Poems, and Australian Love Stories.
This truly poetic and highly original free verse novel is an evocative exploration of death and loss, grief and sadness told through the eyes of Lottie, a child of a German immigrant family, and set against South Australia in the 1960s.
Lottie is fascinated with dead things. She has experienced many losses in her life, including the death of her mother, but it is in the starkness of the Australian landscape and the beauty she can see in it, and in the dead animals she finds there that Lottie finds solace and eventually a path towards healing.
Sharon Kernot's poems are lyrical, filled with exquisite imagery and detail. Her depiction of the natural world is to be particularly commended. She constructs her poems with great originality and confidence, luring the reader into Lottie's world, her isolation and loneliness, her sadness. Her poetic vignettes gradually reveal the tragedies that Lottie and her family have endured, these sad truths bubbling to the surface in small shocks and surprises as the narrative progresses—in a kind of 'literary osmosis'.
Woven through this tale of death and grief, Kernot has layered in a rich backdrop of the life and times of the 1960s. Secondary characters are beautifully drawn and all play an important role within the novel. Imaginary friend, Annie, and real friend, Aboriginal boy Jeffrey, illuminate Lottie's loneliness and isolation. In Jeffrey, Lottie finds someone who feels equally isolated and different, and someone with whom she can confide in, while also revealing the racism of the period and the impact of the Stolen Generations. Her Oma speaks to the migrant experience and the impact of German internment during Second World War and Aunt Hilda highlights the gender expectations of the era.
While Aunt Hilda's actions are often cruel and seemingly heartless, she is well intentioned. She is doing her best to fulfil the mother role for Lottie and to guide her away from her disturbing obsession and into more fitting pursuits for a young lady—namely, knitting. Lottie's clashes with Aunt Hilda provide opportunities for some dark humour, with Lottie being both compliant and rebellious. Lottie's father is distant at times, dealing with his own grief, but he is also stoic and, while understanding Hilda's worries, he is quietly supportive of Lottie and her obsession. He sees a scientist's mind emerging and introduces her to the art of taxidermy.
This ultimate preservation of dead animals through taxidermy gives Lottie a pathway towards healing and an understanding of death—by preserving dead animals she feels she is honouring them and preserving the memory of them.
With exquisite cover art and interior pencil sketches by Edith Rewa, superb design and production values, and of course, a beautifully told and deeply moving free verse narrative, The Art of Taxidermy is an outstanding addition to Australian young adult literature.