The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay (Review by Madhura Mukhopadhyay)

2 min read

Rating: 3/5 ⭐

Jean Bennett is a grizzly, rough-talking, hard-drinking Guide at a wildlife park. The only soft spots in her heart are reserved for her six-year-old granddaughter Kimberley and the park animals. Jean hopes to be promoted to a Ranger, but her plans fall through with rumors of a rapidly spreading disease. At first, Jean and the other park employees pay no heed but soon enough, the ZooFlu finds them. Those infected gain the ability to talk with animals. When Jean’s estranged son shows up, only to infect everyone and kidnap Kimberley, she has no choice but to follow him across the country, with Sue the park dingo in tow.

This is such a strange book. I picked it up because I felt the premise was rather intriguing, but I was not prepared for how gritty and grim this book would be. ZooFlu confers its victims with the ability to understand animals, at first mammals but as the disease progresses, the abilities extend to include birds and then insects. Constantly surrounded by so much noise eventually leads the patient to lose their minds and attempt to drill holes in their head to quieten the voices.

I thought that this book was quite difficult to read, especially in places where Jean talks to the animals on her journey to find Kimberley. The animals have their own way of talking, which is staccato, random and often quite violent. While I appreciate the author adopting this strange style of narration to really make the readers feel the weirdness of the story, I did think that it took something away from the readability of the book.

Another thing that surprised me was how disconnected we possibly are from the animal world. Everything we know or think animals feel about us is a construct of the human imagination. The author completely upends this premise as we hear ominous threats from beloved house dogs, murderous ranting from domesticated crows and concern from wild dingoes.

All in all, if you’re looking for something different and wild to read, this book is sure to hit the spot.

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