Review Blog

Jun 13 2019

The art of taxidermy by Sharon Kernot

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Text Publishing, 2018. ISBN: 9781925603743.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Themes: Prejudice, Aboriginal themes, Germans, South Australia, Internment camps, Loveday. A verse novel about grief and loss, the page long poems to death expose the grisly nature of Lottie's fascination with death and decomposition. Picking up dead birds and animals as she walks around her father's farm she takes them to her bedroom where she tries to breathe life into them. Lottie has not yet resolved her mother's death. Her father too is unable to clear out his wife's possessions, leaving her clothes in the wardrobe for Lottie to look through with her friend, Annie.
Aunt Hilda comes each day to cook and care for Lottie before father comes home from work at university. The aunt is aghast at Lottie's activities, disposing of the animals, throwing them out, then burning them, complaining all the while to her brother that the girl is strange, offering knitting and sewing lessons to make her more natural. The sewing comes in very handy when Lottie attempts taxidermy, after visiting the museum with her father.
In breathtaking grabs of lines we read of the farm, worked by Lottie's mother and grand mother during the war, the men, Lottie's grandfather and father taken to the internment camp at Loveday near Barmera. Here her grandfather died, her father returning home to an ill wife, worn down by hard work and poor rations. She and her baby died in childbirth, and the loss hits the whole family, recalling the death of the older man and the younger sister, drowned in the dam.
So Lottie collects dead birds, watching them decay, wondering what happens to them, willing them to come back to life, using her skills to recover their lost glory.
On a trip to Loveday, the family visits the site of the camp, and the cemetery where those who died were buried, her grandfather's body later exhumed and returned to the farm.
A magnificent story of grief and loss, every reader will take something from this book as they read of Lottie's predicament, her one school friend, Jeffrey, her German background used as a source of bullying, just as Aboriginal Jeffrey is on the outer.
The novel also touches on themes such as the Stolen Generation, the treatment of Germans during World War Two and the role of women.
Fran Knight

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