I loved Animal People. I am now trying to write a review. I've read it twice. And may read it again. It is so difficult to review a book which has so much to offer with each new read. It is as though Charlotte Wood had written an encyclopaedic multi volume chronicle of our times and then had whittled it down to its essentials, before crushing the remnants into a paste, and pressing this essence into an engaging narrative - John Purcell, The Booktopia Book Guru.
Charlotte has answered our Ten Terrifying Questions - read them here
A sharply observed, 24-hour urban love story that follows Stephen Connolly – a character from the bestselling novel The Children – through one of the worst days of his life. The day he has decided to dump his girlfriend.
On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .
As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself.
Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling.
Animal People invites readers to question the way we think about animals – what makes an ‘animal person’? What value do we, as a society, place on the lives of creatures? Do we brutalise our pets even as we love them? What’s wrong with anthropomorphism anyway? Filled with challenging ideas and shocks of recognition and revelation, Animal People shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.
About the Author
Charlotte Wood’s third novel The Children (2007) sold over 10,000 copies in trade paperback. This and her previous novels, The Submerged Cathedral (2004) and Pieces of a Girl (1999) were acclaimed by reviewers and award judges, with shortlistings for the Miles Franklin Award, the regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Australian Book Industry Awards and other prizes. Wood also edited the highly praised anthology Brothers & Sisters (2009). She lives in Sydney with her husband. Visit www.charlottewood.com.au
CHARLOTTE WOOD ON HOW ANIMAL PEOPLE ORIGINATED
I wrote Animal People as both a reaction against and continuation of my last novel. I started out wanting – this is going to sound odd, but I wanted to write a romantic comedy. Without being too extravagant about it, for me writing The Children involved a lot of hard thinking about suffering – what it means to witness the suffering of strangers, on the television news and so on, what our moral obligations are in relation to that. As it turns out, this new book ended up entering into a similar question in a different area, but at first I wanted to do something light. I also wanted to try writing something funny, because I’d never really risked doing comic writing. And I wanted to keep exploring the character of Stephen, because I felt I hadn’t quite finished with him in the previous book – unlike the other characters, my understanding of him remained unresolved at the end of that book. I wanted to understand him more.
I decided (very early) on the single-day timeframe as a kind of structural challenge, and it went from there. Only after writing it for a couple of years did I start to see the larger possibilities of the animal-human relationships, and themes of captivity and freedom which arose from the zoo setting for part of the book. I had thought I simply plucked that setting out of the air (an old boyfriend of mine once worked as a sandwich hand at the zoo, and I thought it had comic potential) but in fact it was the old subconscious doing its work, laying down some nice subterranean layers of meaning for the larger world of the novel.
So I soon realised that I didn’t simply want to write a comic novel, because once you start writing a portrait of a city and examining these relationships between humans and animals, you start to see just how poignant much of this material is. But I think just as beautiful writing somehow can alleviate the harshness of dark material, a sense of comic timing, and a sense of absurdity, allow one as a writer to really delve into the tender and difficult material without leaving the reader marooned in bleakness. I like to think the comedy – if it’s done sharply enough and compassionately and truthfully enough – might help ease the way through some of the more challenging intellectual and emotional terrain.
PRAISE FOR THE CHILDREN
‘The Children is Wood’s best work yet. Despite Mandy’s contempt for the ordinary, Wood makes the most ordinary moments glow: her sensitivity to visual details cuts to the quick. Little escapes her, and the result is a graceful and emphatic portrayal of one family seeking to understand itself.’ Stephanie Bishop, Australian Book Review
‘The central challenge of the novel became the attempt to probe the obscenity of the regular media deliverance of disaster into our own homes, to make sense of the horror to which we are so randomly exposed . . . Wood puts an unusually compassionate, hopeful spin on the media’s sensationalist practices. The Children confirms her as a captivating, questing writer whose work is well worth watching.’ Stella Clarke, The Weekend Australian
‘The Children is beautifully and tightly shaped . . . Wood, whose previous novel, The Submerged Cathedral, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, has the ability to evoke matters of life and death without straining for effect. Her prose is convincing and her images precise’ Dorothy Johnston, The Sydney Morning Herald
‘Charlotte Wood’s new novel . . . perceptively and poignantly probes the complicated love that binds families . . . One rereads the novel not for its shock value but for its nuances, its deep questions and its lovely supple prose. For this is a vibrant, intelligent, utterly compelling work, achingly real and seductively woven with a restrained consonance of connected images that build through the novel to a final symbolic release.’ Katharine England, The Adelaide Advertiser
‘This is a thoughtful, incisive and eminently readable book.’ The Canberra Times
Why I can’t review Animal People by Charlotte Wood
I read Charlotte Wood’s novel Animal People twice. I think it’s one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realised why this is. I don’t want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it.
The trouble is, I can’t recommend it to just anybody.
Sure, some part of me wants to help encourage complacent book club readers the world over to read it. I would like to think it would do them good (and Charlotte Wood’s bank balance good). But, if the truth be told, I don’t want them to.
If they read it they may want to discuss it, as few people these days can understand a book without first discussing it with their peers. They may take the central character of Animal People, Stephen, and compare him with people they know. They may debate whether he is a sympathetic character or not. They may ask what the significance of the dog might be, what the title means, what the ending means. I don’t want them to do any of these things. I want them to wander away from the safety of the group. I want them to let their guard down. I want them to be smacked in the face by Animal People. If they’re not willing to take a few hits, I don’t think they deserve to read Animal People.
So who can I recommend it to?
I felt I had been dismantled, cleaned and reassembled by the novel. The novel did not change me. It reintroduced me to the important parts that make up who I am.
And this is why I have had such difficulty writing about Animal People. Read the full review here
Click here to see Charlotte's answers to the Ten Terrifying Questions.
Number Of Pages: 272
Published: 5th December 2012
Publisher: Allen & Unwin