Blood, skin, bone
a single black tail feather
The second Mosse book I read, a novel instead of a short story collection like the one before, “The Taxidermist’s Daughter” is a feast I am fortunate in chancing upon. Perhaps the word ‘feast’ does not quite work as with the lightness of this title, it’s more akin to an entree–and only forms a full feast when combined with the other two books (“The Mistletoe Bride” and “The Winter Ghosts”). Sadly, I have not owned a copy of “The Winter Ghosts”, but with two positive experiences by now, it shall not be long in the future.
I wrote the following commentary on “Books for life”, a Line OA publication:
“Constantia “Connie” Gifford lost twelve years of her life. Growing up in the house that had long lost its fortune with a father that struggles with the darkness refusing to leave him behind, Connie takes refuge in her father’s craft: taxidermy; discovering the beauty transcending death. Her mundane life comes to an end after her father who suddenly becomes more erratic goes missing and a young woman is found washed on the stream by their manor…
The one word to describe this book is lush. It slowly lulls the reader into the charming hamlet of Fishbourne and its neighborhoods, tying in characters after characters that are never what they seem. Never quite rushing. And yet, all with an undercurrent of something else brewing underneath. The village and the villagers–delicately poised and cautiously related with each other, like a house of cards that could come crumbling in the slightest graze. And crumbling it goes.
In fact, the pace closely mimics the nature around the village surrounded by the sea wall. Small tumbling waves at first, lazily rolling towards the store. Bigger. Harsher. The storm is coming. Then the waves engulf everything that ever was, dragging darkness down, down the depths. When morning comes, disorienting calmness. It’s over.
Such rhythm evokes to the mind the likes of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House. Perceptive readers may piece the puzzle quite easily on their own, but the strength of the book lies in the way the story is told, not the mystery itself.
I regard some of the development rather thin and several of the character arcs incomplete, but given the constraint of the narrative, permissible. This is an accessible standalone book, not a convoluted heavily-layered worldbuilding tome.
Indeed, deceptive casts and a convenient amnesia are hallmarks for the genre, but Mosse succeeds in preparing her display in a palatable sense. What the story lacks in wit, it makes up in grace. Do not let the deceptively airy feel fools you. It is a light reading alright, but a one well-made and would surely get you to savor more.”
What troubles me in that commentary primarily sits on Gifford and Jennie’s characterizations. Venturing to a more spoilerific domain, the two characters are so central to the story but their parts are swept aside in lieu of the more exciting action happening in the present. What a waste since they have so much in the making there. It does take away a bit from what is an otherwise enjoyable read. Along with them, the full revelation of the past; the building blocks of what is currently happening, comes mostly in passing. It makes for many beautiful lines but ultimately weaker blows. The two main characters, Connie and Harry, suffer from the reverse problem. They move the story forward, but when separated from the plot, they’re mostly cardboards. Had Connie’s penchant for taxidermy and Harry’s inclination to painting are revisited and given closure after the final act, they could be so much more. As it is, the traits are just there doing nothing aside of filling in narratives between the scenes. Mosse heroines are actually pretty alike, by what I gander from this book and “The Mistletoe Bride”. Not something exceedingly bad, since they are usually decently likable, but depending on your mood, might not be suitable to be taken together in one binge run.
Oh, also, kudos for whatever did the cover. It’s so handsome, with a velvet-y feel to the touch (my copy is ISBN 1409159892).