CanadianMade Audio Producer, Rita Rich, explores the real life influences behind novelist Nina Berkhout’s debut novel, The Gallery of Lost Species. Rich says, “Reading the novel from this award winning poet, is like taking a trip in the families station wagon. You feel as if you’re looking out the window across the rich Canadian landscapes; traversing rich forests, plains, and mountains, as your family deals with the struggles of addiction, overbearing parents trying to live their dreams through their children, and sisterhood.” Click here to listen to the podcast story.
Within the opening pages of Nina Berkhout’s first novel, The Gallery of Lost Species, a 13-year-old girl named Edith Walker spots “a white fleck on green that caused the hairs to rise along [her] spine” on a mountainside while vacationing with her family in the Rockies. It is, she believes, a unicorn – a sighting playfully confirmed by her kindly father, Henry, when he looks at the creature through his binoculars. This moment, which she describes is “probably the last of my innocent imagination as I left childhood behind,” and it shapes Edith’s life.
As the novel winds down Berkhout writes ,“When would the past let up?” “Like the small bodies of birds Viv (her sister) once drew, memories burrowed inside me without disintegrating. She existed in my mind as an abstraction now, as imprecise as her paintings and as lost to the present day as the unicorn.” But, Berkhout does not let Edith off the hook – or the reader. Loss, she seems to infer in The Gallery of Lost Species, cannot be the end point, it cannot rule a life. Near the end of the novel, she quotes the famous real-life cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans: “There are lost worlds everywhere.” Everyone has lost worlds. The trick is in learning to live again, after they have died.
Originally from Calgary, poet Nina Berkhout has lived in Ottawa for more than a decade, and is the author of five poetry collections: >Letters from Deadman’s Cay (NeWest Press, 2003), This Way the Road (NeWest Press, 2005), Pas de Deux (Turnstone Press, 2006), Arrivals and Departures (BuschekBooks, 2010) and Elseworlds (Seraphim Editions, 2012), the most recent of which received the 2013 Archibald Lampman Award for the best poetry collection by a writer living in the National Capital Region. As well as appearing on a prior Archibald Lampman Award shortlist, her work has been shortlisted for THIS magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt and the John Hirsch Award for most promising Manitoba writer. She holds a degree in Classical Studies from the University of Calgary and a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto.