Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Anatomy of Wings - Karen Foxlee

This is the story of Elizabeth Day. I have pieced it together with my own two hands. I have made it from things I saw and things I did not see but later knew. It is made from the tatters of terrible things and the remnants of wonderful things. I have sewn it together before it fades.

I've picked this up because the back of my ARC has a quote from Mark Zusak that read: "Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished, just to stay near it. The Anatomy of Wings is one of those books."
Convincing, isn't it?

It sure wasn't the cover that attracted me, because this is the actual one that I have:

The story is told by Jennifer Day's. A ten-year-old living in a small town in Queenland (Australia), who's trying to come to terms with her teenage sister's death.
It's her voice that speaks, but as she explains in the quote, a lot of what she tells couldn't have being witnessed by her. This allows the author to being close to Jennifer's world and, at the same time, to follow Beth, her sister, when Jennifer couldn't.
She starts recounting the funeral, and then she goes back to Beth's last months, from the day they went to the lake and Beth fainted, till the day of her death.
But this is not just about Beth. It's also the story of Jenny and her best friend Angela, who are trying to find out why Jenny lost her singing voice, all of a sudden. And it's mainly a story about a family. I wouldn't call it a dysfunctional family at first, but they have their problems. The mother doesn't know how to cope with her teenager growing too fast. The father seems to be the understanding one, but he doesn't do anything to help. Beth is a beautiful, glowing girl who tries to save insects and later her boyfriend. But then becomes growingly distant from everything, as if nothing really mattered, making impossible for her family to understand her. The way her mother reacts to her behaviour reminds me of The Virgin Suicides: repressive and apprehensive. It was painful to read.
Then there's Jenny who collects facts and loves birds more than anything else. Danielle who has to wear braces for the back and is saving money to get a perm. And Nanna, who is overly religious, collects saints figurines, and think that Beth spoke to an angel once.

The best thing about this book is the writing. It was lyrical and delicate. I loved lines like this one:

That winter the nothingness of still days slipped into her, drop by drop.
It kind of reminded me of another book called The Year the Gypsies Came by Linzie Glass, which was also about a family struck by a sudden tragedy, also told by the younger sister, and also beautifully written.
I also enjoyed the melancholic short stories about the neighbourhood, which were included in an apparently random way, but which had a subtle connection to the main story, paralleling in a way what was happening to the main characters.

This said, I must admit I didn't feel the same as Zusak at the end. It was sort of anti-climatic for me. There was no big secret to discover, no mystery that was overlooked, no real explanation except the mere recounts of the facts. Young troubled, dissatisfied teen dies. End of story.
I enjoyed the characterisations, the "mood" of the story, some very vivid descriptions of moments or feelings. But I was a bit disappointed at the end. I probably expected something more and it made me rethink about the whole book. It shouldn't have been presented as a story about a girl looking for answers about her sister's death. It simply is a story about a family who falls apart for many reasons, and the equally sad stories of unfulfilled dreams, traumas and losses of their neighbours.
Even though I didn't end up loving this book as much as I hoped, I'd give this author another try. Her writing was definitely worthy.

also reviewed at:
Books by their cover
Please let me know if you know of more.

Shop Indie Bookstores


Nymeth said...

Well, even with the disappointing ending you more than sold me! And maybe knowing from the start that there will be no big answer will keep me from being disappointed.

mariel said...

Ditto to what Nymeth said! And that quote you opened your review with really sold it to me. Sounds beautiful. Thanks for the review.

Karen said...

I've seen this one around and have been tempted to give it a go - might still do that I think. Thanks for the great review.

valentina said...

Ana, yes maybe. The writing *was* really beautiful so you might appreciate it even just for that.

Mariel, yes, the more I read it the more I think it's beautiful!

Karen, I've only read a couple of (disappointed) reviews so I'd be curious to know what others thought too.

Yan said...

Thanks for the linky! :D

Yan said...

I left you a reply to my review :] and so far everyone I know has either given up on this book or hasn't had a chance to start it yet. Like the review :D

Anonymous said...

Just started this one today and so far I'm loving it. I agree with you about the writing style- it's my favorite part of the book so far. I've also fallen in love with the characters, especially Jenny. :) Also, thanks for the warning about the ending. Now I'll know not to keep my expectations too terribly high.

greenie said...


i just finished reading this book today and came online to search about this book cos i am really confused by it. The writing is really good but, i dont know whether is it me or readers out there that, i have a burning question after i have finished reading the book ----- " so what on earth is wrong with beth? what changed her? " i will be really happy if you can provide me with your opinion.

thanx again (:

Anonymous said...

I have just read this book whilst on holiday and thought it was beautifull. I found it very funny and also so sad in places, I think it is one of the best books I have read. What dissapointing ending? I thought the ending was perfect.

Anonymous said...

To Greenie,
There was nothing 'wrong' with Beth, she was just growing up and got in with bad people, she just couldn't help herself.

valentina said...

It wouldn't have been disappointing if they weren't trying to sell it as a mystery novel, where you have to read to find out why the girl killed herself and why she changed. As a book in itself was good and beautifully written. But in terms of the marketing they did, it wasn't that great. It sort of spoiled it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I don't get this one thing, how did beth really die?

valentina said...


hat's the thing. There isn't just one answer. Nobody knows. She could have fell off the wall, or decided to kill herself. But in the end no one really knows.

Gemmysnap said...

I think thats the point. When there is a death in your house, time stops at that point. There are two tenses, not three. Past and the time of death thru the first year. The point is, you spend your whole book searching for answers, some big explanation as to why death happens, you dwell on the surreal events such as the lake and Beth touching Deidre, you think there is more to the story; you go back and rethink the whole life of the deceased and replay the whole death talking to everyone who might have some more info... but in the end, its the same as the beginning. They are still dead. No answers. Just the journey of grief. Just the journey of remembering your old self, and making a third tense in your life once again.