If I could talk to the animals? – Laura Jean McKay’s ‘The Animals in That Country’

The Animals in That Country by Australian author Laura Jean McKay is a reference to Margaret Atwood's poem of the same name, but with slightly different content.

The animals do not have human faces, but they do appear to have human voices...

The Animals in That Country

Set in a wildlife park in Australia, this wonderfully imaginative book begins with a pandemic - the 'animal apocalypse' as Jean calls it. After a short bout of 'Zooflu', humans can suddenly understand what animals are saying - with their voices, and with the subtle movements (and emissions!) of their bodies.

Scents, body language, and utterances. Would you want to understand what animals are thinking? Careful what you wish for, is McKay's message.

The story follows anti-hero Jean, a hard-wired, hard-drinking grandmother, working for her daughter-in-law at a remote wildlife park; tolerated only because she helps care for her granddaughter, Kimberley.

In the pandemic's aftermath the park literally goes to the dogs - staff are variously made insane by the animals they care for - in one case, a python, another, ants, and for Jean's daughter-in-law, Ange, her birds of carrion.

When Jean's son Lee turns up to kidnap his daughter, to go and 'commune' with the whales, what follows is a wild goose chase across Australia. Jean arms herself with an impressive tracker - a dingo called Sue.

Jean and the other humans have long lost their ability to survive in the wild. As their adventures unfold, the tables are turned; the master becoming mastered, in a fight for survival while humankind and civilisation begin to break down. 

What do the animals have to say? You'd be surprised. Most of them, birds included, have little brains, only concerned with food:

"What. Is it. Will it drop something?"

The Animals in That Country won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2021. I'm looking forward to reading more of McKay's unique and entertaining writing.

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