The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay

‘They’re still going on about that superflu on the radio.’

Jean Bennett is a tough middle-aged woman who works as a guide at a wildlife park in the Australian outback.  She likes a few drinks (except when she’s looking after her granddaughter Kimberley) and she hopes, one day, to be a fully-fledged ranger.   Jean likes the animals and talks to all of them, but a young dingo called Sue is her favourite.  Kimberley’s mother, Angela, manages the park.

Life is disrupted.  There’s a pandemic sweeping the country: called ‘zooflu’, it is no ordinary flu.  One of the first symptoms is that victims begin to hear the animals speaking.  First it is just the mammals, but as the flu progresses, they hear birds and insects.  A cacophony of unstoppable voices: people are overwhelmed.

Jean’s son, Lee, arrives at the park.  He’s infected, he takes Kimberley and heads south. Jean follows him, taking Sue the dingo with her.

What follows is a surreal road trip.  Jean can make sense (mostly) of what Sue says but most people she meets are terrified, many have been driven insane.  Will Jean find Kimberley and Lee?  Is Sue helping her or hindering her?

It is easy to become lost in this novel: trying to make sense of what the animals are saying while trying to understand the human reactions.  The human view of the world is challenged: even where individuals think they understand the animals.  We humans make a lot of assumptions, and once those assumptions are challenged, our thin veneer of civilization is disrupted.

I’ve never read a novel quite like this. Ms McKay manages to steer this quite unique story through some challenging territory.  And, when I could not make sense of all of it, when I became discombobulated, I thought that would probably be how it would feel if I could hear the voices of animals.

I am not entirely sure how Ms McKay makes this story work so well, but it does.  It is simultaneously clever and disturbing.  What an impressive novel!

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Scribe UK for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2020

#AussieAuthor2020

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