The Animals in That Country (Laura Jean McKay, Scribe)
Laura Jean McKay’s debut novel concerns itself with the apocalypse, but an entirely different one to that fixated upon in cli-fi narratives. In McKay’s doomsday tale, humans contract a highly contagious flu that gives them the ability to understand mammals, then birds, then, in the final horrifying frontier, insects. In the Margaret Atwood poem from which the book takes its name, humans and animals are celebrated as holding equal value to one another—an underlying philosophy that propels the novel forward as McKay examines the ethics of animal enclosures like zoos, industrial practices like factory farming and the very foundation of human–animal interactions. This is never, however, at the expense of the deeply personal story at the novel’s heart, which revolves around the middle-aged animal-loving Jean and her family, chosen and otherwise. McKay is a master at building tension through sparse, abrupt language that mirrors Jean’s decades of alcohol abuse, and the excellent world-building is enhanced by the exquisite chemistry between Jean and her canine companion Sue. Visceral and discombobulating yet tender, The Animals in That Country will appeal to readers who enjoyed the animal-led stories in Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, and the foreboding road trip in Romy Ash’s Floundering.
Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based writer and critic