[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher House of Anansi Press. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]
I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing this review for quite a while now. Part of the reason is because I’ve been surprisingly busy these past few weeks, but a bigger reason, I think, is because I wanted to let my thoughts and opinions settle before sharing my opinions. The Gallery of Lost Species was a book with a synopsis that immediately grabbed me – it’s about the relationship between two very different sisters – and so I was extremely excited and thankful to receive an advanced reading copy from House of Anansi (on my birthday, no less!). Unfortunately, the book started out strong but ultimately fell a bit flat for me.
The set up of the story was my favourite part: the book starts with the main character, Edith, telling readers about her unicorn sighting when she was 13 years old. She was hiking with her family at the time, and her father encouraged her belief that it was real. Edith then takes us back to her childhood, letting us in on her family dynamics, which includes an artistic father, a pageant mom who entered her eldest child (Viv, Edith’s sister) into competitions for her own wish-fulfillment, and Edith herself, who is quiet and observant. I really enjoyed reading about the sisters’ childhoods, and developed a soft spot for their dreamer of a father. I grew weary of their mother as the girls did, and found myself feeling quite invested in the story.
It’s a shame that the latter half of the book didn’t quite hold my attention in the same way. While I still wanted to keep reading and find out what happens to Edith and Viv, I couldn’t help but want more from Edith’s character development. She spends years living in her sister’s shadow, and it seems like she becomes defined by her sister and her complicated relationship with Liam. I can see an argument for that kind of character development, but a part of me found myself wanting to learn more about Viv than Edith.
That being said, even though the characters didn’t work 100% for me, I still think The Gallery of Lost Species is worth a read. The writing is beautiful, and it offers poignant insights to sisterhood:
“My sister didn’t share her emotions, secrets, or aspirations with me. i wished I could get her attention more often. It saddened me that we weren’t all that connected.” (p 23 of the Advanced Reading Copy.)
The bond between sisters is a unique one, and Berkhout does a wonderful job of portraying its complexities. How can we feel so burdened by someone we love so much? How far will we go to save one another? They are compelling questions, and ones that The Gallery of Lost Species attempts to answer.
Verdict: A book that I enjoyed overall, but I wish that Edith’s character would have felt more multi-dimensional. I did admire the writing and the fact that it focused on a sisterly bond, though.
Read if: You love reading books about sisters, are interested in cryptozoology, want to read a well-written book.
Have you read The Gallery of Lost Species? What did you think?