Monday, May 11, 2015

Warning: there are no unicorns in this book

There are no unicorns in this book, not really. The Gallery of Lost Species, by Nina Berkhout, has a picture of a unicorn on the cover. It looks like a real unicorn, too, not some childlike rainbow-prancing animation.

The flap copy also refers to the unicorn:
Just as thirteen year-old Edith Walker is about to leave childhood behind, she thinks she spots a unicorn high on a slope while hiking. Her daydreamer father Henry convinces her that what she's seen is real. Edith's sighting of the fabled creature — and her unfailing belief that the imaginary creature will eventually be found — sets in motion a series of events that impact the next decade of her life.
Symbolism, much?

So for some reason I expected this book to be a quest for that unicorn. A bit of a fantasy novel, YA maybe. I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book.

But the website copy provided a few more details:
Fulfilling her father's wish for her to work in a museum, Edith takes a job cataloguing artwork at the National Gallery of Canada, where she meets an elderly cryptozoologist named Theo. Theo is searching for "Gauguin's mystery bird" and has devoted his entire life to tracking down extinct animals. [...] Edith develops an unlikely friendship with Theo when she realizes they might have more in common than she imagined: they are both trying to retrieve something that may be impossible to bring back to life.
Aha! Cryptozoology. There's something I could sink my teeth into.

But Edith doesn't go looking for the unicorn, she just remembers it from time to time. And the cryptozoologist is a fairly minor character.

So this gallery of lost species consists of a unicorn, a bird, and Edith's sister. And maybe Edith herself, and Theo, and Edith's failed painter father, and her mother is certainly a species unto herself, who doesn't even know she's lost. Liam, who fell hard for Edith's sister, he's neither much of a species nor is he lost, though he's lost to Edith, who fell hard for him.

I feel like I was tricked into reading this book. Like when my mom is watching TV and some movie's just starting, and she tells me to come watch with her, it's such a nice movie, but I don't really feel like it. But she tells me the title and its sounds vaguely familiar, like something that may have interested me once upon a time. And I start watching it from where I stopped midtrack crossing the living room, and then I perch on the arm of the sofa, and before you know it I'm curled up beside my mom with a blanket and the tears are streaming down my face, and I'm thinking, this is not a nice movie at all, it's not what I thought it was at all.

This book is like that. I got sucked into Edith's childhood, living in the shadow of her sister, living in the whirlwind of their crazy mom, and wondering why their parents were even together, they're both of them so weak in their different ways. And then they're teenagers, and the drugs start, and the sister leaves and goes to the other side of the country, and she just can't keep it together, and the alcohol, and barely making ends meet, and people die, and life just happens, and it's so sad and depressing, she's a lost cause, and they're all doing stuff for the wrong reasons, they're so screwed up.

So it was a good book, in that it was entirely compelling, I couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

But had I known what it was all about, it's not the kind of book I would've picked up. I still kind of wish there'd been an honest-to-goodness unicorn quest in it.

1 comment:

Stefanie said...

oh such misleading advertising! It's been a long time since I read a good unicorn quest. I could go in for one too!