by Keith Ridgway
I seldom, nowadays, purchase an unfamiliar book from a shop. Usually try to read them first, from the library. This one was an exception, and even more exceptional, I started reading it that very same day and couldn\’t put it down. Animals is one of those curious, amusing and disturbing books that makes you wince and laugh aloud at the same time. Or at least, it did for me. On public transit, no less!
It\’s all about the disintegration of an unnamed character. He is an illustrator but does not draw much during the short course of the novel; however the frequent references to his manner of thinking, desire to sketch things, assessment of good pens, fears of being unoriginal and such felt like very familiar territory to me, so I enjoyed that. As the title would have you guess, he has quite a few encounters in his big-city environment with animals; they are all unsettling, and he worries and frets about his reactions to each. He muses internally a lot, over decisions that haven\’t even been made. His inner monologue reminded me a lot of Holden Caulfield. Also like Catcher in the Rye, the book covers just a few days, or perhaps a week, turning around and around.
The main events are not really solid events at all, and before long you start to wonder how much in just in the narrator\’s mind, and not really occuring at all… It starts when the illustrator is disturbed at seeing a dead mouse in a gutter and examines it in detail; he is fascinated and upset at his friend\’s description of a haunted building; he gets locked into a public park after hours and has a run-in with an amicable policeman; he has an encounter with a famous woman which goes all wrong; he has an inexplicable row with his partner and bunks with various friends for a few days, but that all goes awry as well. His friends are experimental artists, architects and writers, all very interesting characters in their own right. One, which never ceased to amuse me, was a man who had created an elaborate imaginary country (centuries of detailed history and all) for the sake of writing anonymously about politics but had never yet penned a political novel; our narrator bluntly points out flaws in this fabricated world and causes that friendship to go sour as well. Threaded through it all is a fascinating look at societal norms and blunders, an examination of details that often go unremarked.
I was reminded somewhat of Animal Crackers.
The ending took me completely by surprise. I didn\’t know what to think. It made me realize how utterly unreliable this narrator was. How much of what he related was just imagined? It\’s one of those endings that makes you sit and flip your brain back and forth: did what I think just happened, really happen? I was doubly frustrated because I also wanted to know, of course, what happened to his partner, if it really was what the narrator had suggested, because his memory turned out to be unreliable as well. I\’m definitely going to have to read this book again to see if I can pick it all apart and read between the lines better.
Rating: 4/5 …….. 265 pages, 2006