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The Motion of Puppets – Keith Donohue

Keith Donohue’s The Motion of Puppets is a wonderful book. It’s an exquisite example of what I’d call literary fantasy, though I’m sure it’s more likely to be filed in “non-fiction” and called  slipstream or magical realism than anything else. But nomenclature and categorization are irrelevant at the end of the day. It’s the story and writing that matter.

The Motion of Puppets is a beautifully written story of a couple in Quebec who become separated by strange circumstances. Kay is part of a circus troupe performing locally, and her husband, Theo, is an academic working on a translation of a biography of Eadweard Muybridge—the photographer who first captured still images of horses in motion to show that they come completely off the ground as they gallop.

Theo’s a worrywart of sorts, and Kay is a free spirit, a distinction evident in their occupations as well as their behaviors. But despite their slight differences, they’re very much in love, and deeply committed to making their relationship work. They have the fire of new love in them, and they nurture that fire with care.

As part of their daily meanderings in the Old City Quebec, they regularly see an old wooden puppet under a bell jar in the window of a closed and always-dark puppet shop. Kay develops an almost obsessive love with the puppet, insisting that they walk by the shop regularly so she can stare in longing at the wooden puppet; it’s seemingly innocuous. And why wouldn’t it be?

After a late night of celebration with her co-performers (including a rather handsy rake of a man), Kay finds herself walking home alone. She feels she’s being watched, followed, so she rushes along her usual walk and finds the lights in the puppet shop on and the door unlocked for the first time. She vanishes.

Theo is beside himself with worry at Kay’s disappearance, and it affects his life in myriad ways: his mother-in-law suspects him of foul play, as do the police (at least initially); his translation work halts; he starts making daily trips to the theater where Kay performed, where he befriends Egon, a dwarf who works for the theater company.

Kay, meanwhile, has been transformed and transported to a new world. She has to learn to navigate her new surroundings and remember the life she’s lost, which grows more difficult with each passing day.

I’ll leave the synopsis at that, because this The Motion of Puppets really deserves your read. It’s written poetically, with a great cast of characters, and a plot that had me guessing where the story would wind up until the very last pages. It was magical and heartfelt, with a deftly applied layer of horror that never crossed over into the realm of “true” fright, but hovered just beyond the edge of sight, casting a shadow over every scene. In short, an excellent book.

The Motion of Puppets is available on Amazon.

Before I close this review, a short humblebrag: this review copy was sent over by Picador. Picador. Okay. I guess this review blog gets seen every now and again. Thanks for bearing with me.

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