Book Review


The Motion of Puppets
Author: Keith Donohue
Format: eBook, courtesy of NetGalley and Macmillan-Picador
Start Date: September 22, 2016
End Date: November 6, 2016
Rating: 4 stars

“Why did you glance back?

Why did you hesitate for that moment?”


Before I start this review, I just wanted to take a moment to mention the fact that it was not a lack of enjoyment that this book took so long to read. It took so long for the same reason that I have not updated my blog in the last month or so: I have been extremely busy with school. As a full-time graduate student, sometimes things get in the way. While I have this momentary reprieve, I will do my best to update my Blog and Goodreads on the books I have read and listened to in the interim, but I wanted to start with this one while it was still fresh on my mind.

The story starts off with Kay and her husband Theo in Quebec City, Canada.

Kay was there as a summer performer with the cirque. She was a dancer.

Cirque du Soleil gif 2.gif

She was also in love with a puppet from a window in a shop in the Quatre Mains.

She fell in love with a puppet.

Because he was beautiful, because he was rare, because he could not be hers.

During their stay, Theo, her husband and professor at a small college in upstate New York, was working on his translation about Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge was a photographer in the nineteenth century who studied the art of motion. His most famous work was perhaps his “Horse in Motion.”


“Only photography has been able to divide human life into a series of moments, each of them has the value of complete existence,” Muybridge wrote once. Each moment part of a series, yet separate and complete somehow, the motion but an illusion, the way to mark time.

It was obvious from early on in the narrative that the theme of motion played heavily in this book – from Kay’s stint in to the cirque, her transformation into a puppet (and performer), and Theo’s work on his Muybridge translation. However, I think it was often a little too overt. Donohue felt the need to mention the word or idea of “motion” frequently, so the theme went from being rather clever to rather trite.

After a night out of dinner and drinks with other members of the cirque, Kay, thinking she is being followed, enters the Quatre Mains puppet shop, which had always previously been locked. When she awoke the next evening, she found that she had been turned into a puppet. In the back room of the Quatre Mains, she meets other puppets who (presumably) were all once human. Although an adjustment, she soon gets used to her strange new life with her strange new friends. I thought the cast of characters were very well imagined. I liked reading about the relationships between the characters as well as their distinct personalities. There was even a hint to a few of the puppets’ past lives, though most of them had completely forgotten them.

The rules had been set down by the Original (the puppet in the bell jar that Kay had first fell in love with). The puppets were free to move about at night, between the hours of midnight and dawn, but were never allowed to leave their allocated space.

The changeover always happened slowly. A spark flickered deep within, perhaps only in her mind or, as she now thought, at her soul’s center of gravity. The inside flame would go on and then off and on again until it caught hold, and suddenly she would be conscious, not quite aware of where and who she was, but able to think.

Meanwhile, concurrently with Kay’s narrative, Theo was shocked and upset by the sudden disappearance of his wife. She left without a trace. After accusing him of murder, even the Canadian police were unable to find clues to her whereabouts. With Egon, a man from the cirque that Kay had been part of, Theo went on a journey to find her, never giving up hope that they will one day be together again.

Another theme of the book then, aside from the obvious theme of “motion,” had to do with the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus. There are many versions of this story, but essentially it all starts when Eurydice died after being bitten by a viper. Her husband, Orpheus, traveled to the Underworld to bring her back, with the stipulation that he was not to turn around to look at her until they were both out of the Underworld. However, near the end of their journey, he began to doubt that Eurydice was behind him, and right before she crossed the threshold into the Upper World, he turned to look at her, and she was taken back to the Underworld.

In The Motion of Puppets, you can see the general parallels: Kay is Eurydice, taken into the Quatre Mains as a puppet; Theo is Orpheus, who risks everything to rescue her. The question is whether or not the characters will have an unhappy ending, like their namesakes, or if they will be able to overcome the myth and be reunited as humans once more.

This book was interesting. I could not wait to read it because I had enjoyed Donohue’s previous works The Stolen Child and The Boy Who Drew Monsters. I felt this book would be a good Halloween book because it was categorized as “horror.” I don’t know why this book is considered horror. It would more fall under the category of realistic fantasy. Unless you are terrified of dolls/puppets that can move around talk. Then one might consider it horror.

But I would say it is definitely worth a read. Interesting concept, characters, and setting. I think it fell a little short on subtlety, with both of the themes mentioned above, but it was charming and the ending was fantastic.


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