The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay blew my mind in the best possible way. I finished it three days ago and can’t stop thinking about it.
Jean is a no nonsense and deeply flawed human. She loves the animals at the sanctuary where she works, and her granddaughter Kim, and that’s about it.
A pandemic sweeps the country, which is rumoured to allow people to understand what the animals are saying. Jean and Kim are excited – they want to be able to talk to the animals. Jean is constantly “doing the voices” for the animals around them. Kim’s mum, who runs the sanctuary is not enthused by the idea of the virus and locks the park down to try to protect her staff and the animals.
Of course that doesn’t work and results in a wild ride of a thought experiment about how humans would react if they could understand animal speak.
McKay’s rendering of Jean’s voice is so distinct, I fell in love with the writing within the first twenty pages. Jean is an alcoholic, chain smoker, with questionable taste in men and zero cultural sensitivity. She would do anything for her granddaughter, and it is the loss of her granddaughter (kidnapped by her son) that begins Jean’s and Sue’s road trip. Jean’s journey as a character is engrossing and absolutely pulled me into the book. The development of her relationship with Sue the dingo once they can understand each other is complex and satisfying.
There is also a question here of who and what is family, and how animals play into that. It also addresses how human treatment of animals has affected not only domesticated animals, but all animals.
How would you react to animals who thought you were a threat and were constantly terrified of you? What about those who thought you were food and you could hear them plotting how to take you out? Imagine being able to hear the ant colonies in your yard, the spiders in your roof, the birds, bees, and flies. What is that mosquito that buzzes in your ear in the night actually saying? Would you cope? I’m not sure I would.
There is so much I would love to talk about in this book, but I don’t want to include any spoilers! Let’s just say that I think the book accurately reflect the lengths people will go to when they are uncomfortable and hurting. I know this book is going to be in my head for a long time.
Content warnings for animal cruelty and other troubling human behaviour. Also, maybe don’t read this one just now if you’re sensitive to the idea of a pandemic.
Have you read this one? I would love to know what you thought!