Just as thirteen year-old Edith Walker is about to leave childhood behind, she thinks she spots a unicorn high on a slope while hiking. Her daydreamer father Henry convinces her that what she’s seen is real. Edith’s sighting of the fabled creature – and her unfailing belief that the imaginary creature will eventually be found – sets in motion a series of events that impact the next decade of her life.
Edith grows up in her big sister Vivienne’s shadow. While the beautiful Viv is forced by the girls’ overbearing mother Constance to compete in child beauty pageants, plain-looking Edith follows in her father’s footsteps, collecting oddities, studying coins and reading from moldy books that only serve to exacerbate her asthma.
Eventually, a family trip to the Rocky Mountains and a chance encounter with a handsome geology student named Liam changes the course of the sisters’ relationship forever. As Viv rebels against her mother and pageantry to become a painter, she embarks on a downward spiral into addiction. Edith then finds herself torn between a desire to save her sister and pursuing her own love for Liam.
Fulfilling her father’s wish for her to work in a museum, Edith takes a job cataloguing artwork at the National Gallery of Canada, where she meets an elderly cryptozoologist named Theo. Theo is searching for “Gauguin’s mystery bird” and has devoted his entire life to tracking down extinct animals. Navigating her way through Vivienne’s dark landscape while trying to win Liam’s heart, Edith develops an unlikely friendship with Theo when she realizes they might have more in common than she imagined: they are both trying to retrieve something that may be impossible to bring back to life.
The Gallery of Lost Species is about finding solace in unexpected places — in works of art, in people and in animals that the world has forgotten.
About the author
Nina Berkhout is originally from Calgary. She is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Elseworlds and Arrivals and Departures, which was a finalist for the 2011 Archibald Lampman Award for the year’s best poetry by a writer living in the national capital region. Her work has also been shortlisted for THIS Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt and the John Hirsch Award for most promising Manitoba writer. Berkhout holds a degree in Classical Studies from the University of Calgary and a Master’s in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. She now lives in Ottawa.
Nina Berkhout brings a poet's eye to her debut novel, writing with a haunting sadness about the scaling down of one’s most tremendous dreams. Despite the undertone of life's fragility and disappointments, Edith’s sense of humour and ability to see things with detached irony makes her a powerful and endearing protagonist.
Suzanne Desrochers, author of Bride of New France
This artful, multi-layered novel describes a love between two sisters that idealizes and mythologizes in an attempt to stave off loss. Nina Berkhout is a master at showing how we trick ourselves into believing that we can hunt down and hold the elusive other.
Claire Holden Rothman, author of My October
Berkhout's emotional and intellectual range make this novel a pleasure to read.
Winnipeg Free Press
…one of the most deeply moving stories I have read in many years…
Globe and Mail
Berkhout does a masterful job…
...emotionally resonant…a good first novel...
Quill & Quire