09 July 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 664
The Embalmer's Book of Recipes
By Ann Lingard
Published by Indepenpress
ISBN-10: 1906710171, ISBN-13: 978-1906710170
Buy this book from Amazon UK
If you can get past the gruesome eye on the cover, you enter into a world of love, mathematics, farming and death, woven together in Ann Lingard's 'The Embalmer's Book of Recipes'.
The book follows the interconnected lives of three women: Lisa, an academic who has achondroplasia (a bone growth disorder causing the most common type of dwarfism); sheep farmer Maddie, who suffers from a facial deformity; and Ruth, an ex-nurse turned taxidermist.
The story passes through various points in each of the women's lives, which, although they may seem mundane, are pivotal moments for them. So everyday are some of these vignettes, that at points I found I was waiting for something more to happen - perhaps a macabre ending or a surprise twist.
There are some interesting descriptions in the book, and I wondered if Lingard was inputting some of her own characteristics into each of the women.
In an attempt to make sense of the world around her, Lisa sorts her thoughts visually, into shapes and colours. She also has to cope with family conflict and living a normal life with a disability. The scene where Lisa meets two other people with achondroplasia, and is embarrassed because she doesn’t want to be seen as one of them, is a particularly good example of her philosophy on life.
Maddie frequently reminisces, looking back to her earlier life when she farmed with her husband. She suffered from severe depression and feelings of worthlessness, which feel painfully real to the reader.
Ruth has a fascination with the weird and wonderful. I felt she had the most extreme, eccentric personality and was expecting a darker outcome for her.
The book's strength lies in the intense sense of time and place it creates in the reader's mind. Images are conjured like old Polaroid photographs; faded snapshots filled with tinted memories - whether they are the horrors of sheep farming during the foot and mouth epidemic, or fleeting moments shared between illicit lovers.
Lingard's past as a research scientist is evident in the shots of science she intersperses in the fiction. Every opportunity is taken to educate the reader, for example on the genetics behind achondroplasia, or the spread and control of foot and mouth.
Clearly having spent much time researching the subjects she covers in the book, Lingard draws on many sources, as is most apparent in Ruth's essays on taxidermy. However, my heart did sink a little each time I reached one of these essays, as, despite the fact they were vivid accounts of fascinating, if somewhat macabre, topics, I felt they detracted from the main narrative.
The story didn't grab me from the off, and initially it was a bit of a chore getting to know the characters. The writing felt a little forced and too polished, lacking a natural style and flow.
However, around halfway through I realised I had begun to rather enjoy it, and was looking forward to a chance to catch up with Lisa, Ruth and Maddie. Although it took a while to reach its stride, 'The Embalmer's Book of Recipes' develops into a warm and atmospheric read.
Buy The Embalmer's Book of Recipes from Amazon UK.