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THE MANIKIN by Joanna Scott

THE MANIKIN

By Joanna Scott

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-3974-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

 Like a consummate magician, Scott (Arrogance, 1990; Various Antidotes, 1994; etc.) conjures up a magic domain in rural New York where a large house, its strange contents, and a white Arctic owl enthrall--and then finally expel--the house's inhabitants. Built in the early 1900s on two thousand remote acres by Henry Craxton, the ``Henry Ford of Natural History,'' Manikin was both a home for his collection of stuffed animals and an expensive indulgence. Nothing was spared in building the house or landscaping the grounds, and a large staff was employed to maintain both in style. Craxton soon died, however, and his widow, fortunes much reduced, lived permanently at the Manikin, while the Craxtons' only surviving son, Hal, dissipated his mother's money in continuous travel. The novel begins in 1927 with Mrs. Craxton alive but frail, and the servants secure in their isolated kingdom. When Junket, the teenaged son of estate manager Lore, innocently shoots a white Arctic owl, Scott subtly introduces the somewhat gothic but still intelligent note that's at the heart of the story. The owl, mounted by the malevolent Boggio, Craxton's resident master taxidermist, is set in a sinister pose--it appears to be screaming--in the master bedroom. Boggio has his reasons, which become clear at the end, but the owl's death begins the unravelling of the magic kingdom. A young woman seduces Peg, the housekeeper's daughter, who's then raped by an intruder; Mrs. Craxton changes her will and dies; Hal returns, is driven away by scandal, and then reappears only to evict the servants, who, away from the Manikin, find the happiness and love denied the cursed house and its owner. A richly atmospheric and literary gothic romp, with settings as realistic and perfectly rendered as Craxton's animals: a novel that splendidly reinforces Scott's reputation as an original and imaginative writer.