I feel like it’s been a while since I last had a good so-called “book hangover”. On Friday, I finished reading Karen Foxlee’s “The Anatomy of Wings” and I still haven’t been able to move on and start a new book. I haven’t even gotten around to choosing which of the many books on my TBR list I should read next. TAOW is looking like a tough act to follow. I’ll probably settle on something in a completely different genre.
TAOW was actually given to me by a friend for my birthday last year. She said she bought it because it looked cool and seemed like it might be the sort of novel I’d enjoy. This is the edition that I have:
As you can see, it’s a rather melancholy-looking cover, so, matched with the title, I was expecting this novel to be poignant, poetic and moving. And, boy, it did not disappoint!
Before I started reading it, I had actually been a bit afraid that it’d be overly poetic in the descriptions and metaphors and the writing in general; and I was worried that I’d be going through this book, rolling my eyes at the sap dripping off the pages. First impressions can be harsh, hey? Well, I was half correct – it was very poetic, very descriptive, and abstract at times, but it wasn’t overbearing, and it never got to the point of being cringe-worthy.
I would actually say (and I have said to the friend who gave me the book) that TAOW is potentially one of the most beautifully written modern novels I have ever read. (By “modern” I mean something set within the last, I dunno, forty to fifty years (?) Well, it was first published in 2007, and the story’s set in the ’80s, so it fits my loose, not-really-defined criteria anyway.) It was so amazingly written that I didn’t even mind that Foxlee only used commas very, very sparingly (probably the only grammatical fault I could find, but you could also call it poetic licence and hence not really a fault).
“The Anatomy of Wings” is the story of a young girl, Jennifer Day, and the events surrounding the death of her oldest sister, Elizabeth (AKA Beth). It’s told from Jenny’s perspective, but the narrative switches between pre- and post-death, and you’re sort of piecing together the whole picture as you go along. At first this was a little bit confusing, but Foxlee does make it obvious enough where you are at any given point in the book (while still being subtle, of course). As I really got into TAOW, I really liked this switching and jumping back and forth. Rather than stunt the flow of the novel, I think it helped to build tension and intrigue.
But, of course, the stand-out thing for me was the way Foxlee used words to create such powerful imagery: the way she paired subjects and descriptors that usually don’t meet in the same sentences; and the way she brought small details – things that other writers might’ve ignored – into the story and actually enhanced the story by doing so.
I should mention as well that TAOW is set in a rural Queensland mining town. No offence to rural/remote towns, but given the setting, I really had not expected the novel to be so deep and magical and fundamentally moving. I hadn’t expected to uncover such a strong connection to the characters. Jenny is only about ten years-old in the book, but she has got to be one of the most likeable and relatable child protagonists I’ve ever come across. (This is probably helped by the fact that she really likes birds (as do I) and her favourite bird is the wedge-tailed eagle, which is also my favourite bird. I am actually considering writing a post on this.)
Sometmes it was the really simple but beautiful details that got me. After reading TAOW, I feel like I’ll never look at the sky in the same way again; I’ll never look at rain clouds or dead grass or eye lashes in quite the same way. And it wasn’t just the visuals. Foxlee incorporated a lot of other sensory details as well, particularly sound. The auditory details – the cicadas singing their one-worded, one-noted song; the sound of bicycle tyres on hot bitumen; the lake breathing in and out against the grass and weeds – all amazingly written. One of my favourites, though, is when Jenny describes the sound of her mum’s voice, post-tragedy, as having the quality of “a teaspoon tapped against a teacup, it had a hollow fragile ring to it”.
“The Anatomy of Wings” is a book that I was sad to finish. It’s one of those books that, once finished, I straightaway went back through to re-read favourite excerpts. It’s a book that I wanted to cry over – not from sadness, but from the beauty captured in its pages.