There are some really fascinating aspects to this book. I love the idea of collecting as a compulsion and form of preservation and our desire to re-write history – especially when family’s involved.
When Rosemary moves back to her Grandfather’s farm to work on her thesis, she becomes obsessed with the lives of earlier inhabitants. She imagines the fey Dora, first wife of Great-Great-Grandfather Henry, joining the secret world of tattooing as a way of collecting and connecting to Henry’s own obsessions. In her isolation, Rosemary starts to over-identify with Dora and feel the ghostly presence of a more immediate tragic past.
Rosemary’s strongest connection to her late Grandfather was through their mutual interest in Taxidermy, which is another fascinating aspect that is explored. The idea of stuffing rarities to preserve the memory of an endangered species is both tragic and ironic.
There are several self-conscious nods to gothic novels – especially Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights – which work in that they’re openly acknowledged through Rosemary’s work, but at times seem a little clunky. The sense of history – imagined, hoped for and ultimately accepted – brings to light the skeletons and specimens that lurk in our own cabinets of curiosity.