The art of taxidermy by Sharon Kernot
Text, Melbourne, 2018. ISBN 9781925603743
(Age: Middle secondary) Highly recommended. Aged eleven, Lotte falls in love with death. She admires the beauty of a dead gecko, and keeps it. She and her soulmate Annie find beauty and death linked as they ramble through the country surrounding their home. Lotte soon has a collection of bones, skins and feathers in her bedroom. Her father is tolerant but her aunt, their housekeeper, is appalled by the smell and the unusual nature of the hobby. As the novel progresses the reader learns that death has laid a heavy hand on the family, and that Lotte's interest in death is about preserving both memories and objects. Lotte's mother died some time ago after the birth of a stillborn child. Lotte's grandmother is still mourning the loss of her German-born husband after his internment during the war in the Loveday camp. There is another grave in the cemetery, that of Annie, who the reader learns died aged six in a local dam. Lotte's father has preserved his wife's clothes just as they were and Lottie's imagined adventures with Annie are an attempt to keep her memory alive. Lotte's concerned relatives give her a kitten and a camera as distractions. Lotte's love for the kitten is a life-affirming emotion; her love for the camera is both life-affirming and an expression of her need to preserve what she has. The time comes for her to make choices about a career, but her aunt is appalled by her interest in taxidermy and suggests that being a teacher or nurse would be more suitable. However, Lotte's father takes her to a museum where a taxidermist explains his art. Lotte is more firmly intrigued and convinced that this will be her career. She believes that taxidermy is a celebration of life and a preservation of beauty.
This is a simply written verse novel which covers many issues without seeming didactic. The attitudes to emigre Germans during World War II, the difficulties of the Stolen Generation and beliefs about the role of women in society are minor themes while the main one is the effect of death and grief. The story evolves quite dramatically and holds the reader's attention. The poems are easily read and the descriptions of the natural world are evocative, the writer having a keen eye for details of shape and colour.
The novel is highly recommended for Middle School readers.