Death has always been a part of life, and has been used as themes in literature through many different angles. Sometimes from the point of view of the mourners (e.g. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE), sometimes from the dead (e.g. THE LOVELY BONES), even from the grim reaper’s point of view (e.g. THE BOOK THIEF). Never before did I read a book where the mourning relative of a dead person mourns through taxidermy, an art form I always found bizarre and somewhat related to cruelty toward animals.
Until I read this book.
THE ART OF TAXIDERMY is a verse novel written from the point of view of a preteen girl, Lottie, whose poignant narrative shows us how she copes with the many losses and deaths in her life, and how they shape her life.
I must confess something here. I am also a writer. My writing journey began as a way to cope with deaths in my family. In December 2013, I began to write, after struggling with death and mourning and grief and loss got almost two years. I put to words a story circling in my head and before I knew it, it became my most intense and passionate dream.
I began to write to cope with death, the way Lottie did. Here, I connected so strongly with her, I cannot express in words. Lottie, at a tender age, lost her sister, Annie, in a tragic accident, and then lost her Mother and her unborn/stillborn little sister as well. To cope with death and loss, Lottie began to find corpses of dead animals in the forest around her suburbia. To preserve the dead animals, she learnt to do amateur taxidermy. She could not resurrect her mother and sister. They were long gone. But she grieved through this.
Her passion was not well received by her aunt Hilda, who took over the household after Lottie’s father retreated to his study to cope with many more deaths in his life; of his own father, his twin brother, his wife and two of his children. Like Lottie, he didn’t let go of his deceased loved ones. Rather he clung to them. From him, Lottie received minor antagonism. Through him and Lottie and Lottie’s grandmother, Oma, and Aunt Hilda, the author shows us different ways of grieving and mourning for loss.
Alongside this, the author also sketched beautifully how racism plays its role in post WWII Australia. German Lottie and her dark skinned aboriginal friend, Jeffrey are isolated and alienated from the rest of the mainly white Australian school. For those who naïvely believe Australia has no racism should pick up and educate themselves through this book.
Overall, I’d recommend this beautiful and poignant coming of age verse novel about death and grieving and learning to live and love again after significant losses in life. Through taxidermy, the author shows us the dead might never come back alive, but the mummy of their memories will always be preserved among us, through the art of taxidermy, aka our love for them.