The Art of Taxidermy by Sharon Kernot
The Art of Taxidermy is an evocative verse novel set in a small Australian town in the 1960s. Author Sharon Kernot explores themes of grief and identity in her story of Lottie, a girl fascinated by death. Lottie has suffered a number of losses in her own short life, including her mother’s, and her way of grieving is unique – she collects dead animals and attempts to preserve them. In lyrical language, Kernot draws a comparison between the Australian bush and death: both are beautiful and desolate at once.
The reasons for Lottie’s desire to express her grief through taxidermy are evident: ‘I wanted flesh and blood, / not ghosts.’ In one passage, she imagines resurrecting her grandfather: ‘Rewired, reconstructed, / resurrected, rewound, / revised the present. / Rewrote the past.’ While Lottie’s father, a scientist, is accepting of her interests, her Aunt Hilda deems such tendencies inappropriate for a girl. There are glimmers of dark humour to be found here, such as when Aunt Hilda finds a bloody sheet from one of Lottie’s experiments and believes Lottie has started her period. Lottie accordingly uses the cotton from the menstrual pads to stuff a lorikeet.
History is important in this story. Lottie’s family is German and she must grapple with their experiences during World War II; her male relatives were confined in the Loveday Internment Camp in South Australia, and the women left to make ends meet at home. Kernot also touches on the Stolen Generations through Lottie’s friendship with Jeffrey, an Aboriginal boy living with a white family, though her attempts to draw a parallel between Lottie’s and Jeffrey’s experiences are the weakest parts of the book.
The Art of Taxidermy was shortlisted for last year’s Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. It will appeal to teen readers who have, like Lottie herself, ‘a dark heart’. For ages 13+.