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Monday, October 13, 2008

The Manikin - Joanna Scott

I picked The Manikin by Joanna Scott up a while back at a used book store in Williamsburg, Virginia. I had never heard of the author or of the book before but plot sounded interesting. And it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction which is a good sign. And I didn't notice until later that all three or four books I had picked up that day had red covers. Hmmm.

I was reading this for Carl's R.I.P. III challenge but after reading the book I'm not sure it really fits into the challenge. It's definitely gothic though...but more American Gothic as opposed to creepy/scary gothic. Make sense? A reviewer on the back of the book had compared the book to a Hawthorne book and I can see why.

The story takes place in 1920's and The Manikin in the title of the book refers to a mansion in New York. The mansion and estate were founded by a Mr. Craxton who made his fortune in taxidermy which means the whole mansion is full of creepy stuffed animals, birds, etc. The term "manikin" also refers to the skeletal frame a taxidermist uses for his creations. The mansion really is a key player in the story.

The story revolves around the people residing at The Manikin. Mr. Craxton has been dead for a while and Mrs. Craxton, elderly and an invalid, is left alone to live in her mansion. Her only son rarely comes to visit so she is left with the estate's servants. The story is really about the servants and is definitely a coming-of-age story. The main maid, Ellen Griswood, has a daughter Peg who is sixteen and just starting to figure out what she wants in life. The groundskeeper also has a son who's grown up with Peg and is developing feelings for her. But Peg is more infatuated with Lily, a "modern girl" and guest of Mrs. Craxton.

I was thinking that this book would be more "gothic" and creepy with a spooky mansion filled with dead animals. But really it is about the Griswoods. Not only is it a coming-of-age story about Peg but it's also about how this affects her mother and how Ellen comes into her own as well. While I think the writing was wonderful and The Manikin is depicted really well, the story just didn't go anywhere for me. Perhaps if I wasn't expecting something ghastly to happen every chapter I would have enjoyed it more.

Here's a newer copy's cover:

All in all, since it is a "gothic" novel I will add it as my four book of the R.I.P. III Challenge.


  1. It's too bad that the story ended up disappointing you a bit, but you still made me very, very curious about it.

  2. I would have been expecting the same thing of a book with that title and cover. Reminds me of an old ghost story I picked up called "Julian's House", which, sadly, turned out to be one of the most boring books I ever stopped reading ...

  3. I find that expecting something ghastly to happen makes a story much less scary. It's much more effective to be reading and taken completely by surprise by what happens. Still, this book does sound interesting with a creepy house as a key player.

  4. I can't decide which cover I like better. They're both so pretty.

  5. Sounds like a good one even if it didn't work out to be quite as gothic as expected. The covers definitely give that impression, don't they!


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