Sunday, November 6, 2016


Keith Donohue

Ms. Hen decided to read THE MOTION OF PUPPETS because she heard the author read during the Boston Book Festival in October. He has a very quiet voice, and was not the most expressive reader Ms. Hen had ever heard, but she was intrigued by the story of a puppet that comes to life. Ms. Hen loves puppets. During the reading, Mr. Donohue told the audience that he’s afraid of puppets, which Ms. Hen thought was funny. She can understand why a person would be afraid of puppets; they can be frightening if one thinks of them from a certain perspective. What are they but pretend people? Or are they pretend?

Ms. Hen loved this novel from the start. The writing is exquisite: the words flow across the page, and not a moment is wasted. The description of Quebec and the neighborhoods drip with beauty. Ms. Hen thought she was actually there, though she’s never been there. The characters are realistic and unique. And she loved the puppets.

Kay Harper and her new husband, Theo, go to Quebec because she is performing as an acrobat in a cirque for the summer. While they are there, he works on his translation of a biography of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge. They are happy newlyweds, even though they had a rocky start to their relationship. He is ten years older than she, and she is the type of woman that all men love. She falls in love with a puppet in a window of a store called Quatre Mains, or Four Hands. The puppet is has a sign next to it that says “puppet ancienne,” or old puppet. Whenever they walk by the store, she stares in the window.

One night, she goes out for drinks with some members of the cirque, and afterward, on the way home, the ringmaster, Reance, follows her. She is afraid of him catching her, and feels unsafe, so she goes into The Quatre Mains, since the door is open. She never comes out. The people inside turn her into a puppet.

He husband searches for her, but to no avail. He attempts to hunt her down with the help of the dwarf from the cirque, Egon, and the classics professor, Dr. Mitchell. (Incidentally, in the two other novels Ms. Hen has read recently about a circus or carnival, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and GEEK LOVE, there has been a dwarf in each!) Ms. Hen attempted to guess what would happen at the end while she was reading, but she was wrong.

There aren’t a lot of novels which Ms. Hen longs to be transformed into films. But there is something so cinematic about this novel; she thinks it would be fantastic as a stop-motion animation combined with live action film, possibly directed by Tim Burton. She can see the puppets dancing around; some of the scenes are so wild, Ms. Hen was thirsty for them to be seen visually.

There are a smattering of hens in this novel, enough to please Ms. Hen. When Kay breaks into The Quatre Mains, she looks around at all the puppets and sees, “A felted red rooster in a yellow beret.” Later, the puppets are being transformed into larger puppets, and Kay thinks of her mother, “old comforter, young and singing sweetly on her walk from the henhouse.” And when Theo and his friends are looking for Kay in Vermont at the puppet museum they see, “A pair of wet chickens foraged in the grass behind a yellow farmhouse.”

Ms. Hen loves reading scary novels during the Halloween season, and this was the perfect book to read on Halloween night, sitting under her electric blanket, with the little ghouls and goblins outside begging for candy. Sometimes things aren’t what we want them to be, but that’s life, and Ms. Hen knows this. But we can take comfort in the fact that we’re all in the same boat. Not everybody has what they want.

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