Reviewed by Ranga Iyer-Rajah
Costume is the first part or rather the first story in this book. Raine the protagonist struggles with issues that are out of the routine. Born into a wealthy family she lives out of various accommodations/rooming facilities. Seems like she is romanticizing poverty and wants to explore it fully.
This exploration perhaps is one of the reasons why Raine is willingly abusing her body by not feeding it. She seems to be deriving a pleasure out of self-denial. Her characterization is excellent. Johnston, while portraying a weak and almost breakable exterior has created an iron will for Raine.
She simply walks and keeps moving on, watching always, but never explaining herself. A character that is so silent that others form opinions about her. But she neither denies nor agrees. She keeps living on, partying, shop-lifting but never eating.
There is a party Raine is invited to by Sylvie, where the hostess makes a comment saying that it seems like Raine has not willingly eaten in years. But for some strange reason, she always carries a cake with her. It must be giving her a feeling of staying close to food, therefore a sense of being close to the element that nurtures the being.
The second story is about Jules, a taxidermist, his two women—Maddy, his wife and Fiona, the ballet dancer—and an elephant calf.
Maddy has lived every moment of life with Jules and she has not stepped out of the house for over five years now.
Maddy practices spiritual healing. And maybe also black magic on Fiona who starts experiencing stiffness in her joints and is concerned about her performances.
Jules is also interested in an ailing baby elephant at the Canadian National Exhibition. He wants to salvage the creature using his skills as a taxidermist. If not for him the animal would be fodder for the dumpster.
Though the stories have two different takes, there is a connection. It deals with bodies—how Raine is slowly destroying what she has. On the other hand Jules finds one that is on the verge of decaying and restores it for life.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say Costume is the connection and the protagonist of the book.
Johnston has captured every odor, shadows, lights and sounds of the city. The feel of the downtown Toronto is very young but wise beyond years to simply indulge in its vibrancy. The CNE Expo essence is described in great details.
Costume & Bone is published by Quattro Books.