Combined Reviews: Animal People by Charlotte Wood

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animal_people.jpg    Animal People
Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
'He could not find one single more word to say. I just want to be free. He could not say those words. They had already withered in his mind, turned to dust. He did not even know, he marvelled now, what the hell those words had meant.'

Acclaimed novelist Charlotte Wood takes a character from her bestselling book The Children and turns her unflinching gaze on him and his world in her extraordinary novel, Animal People. Set in Sydney over a single day, Animal People traces a watershed day in the life of Stephen, aimless, unhappy, unfulfilled - and without a clue as to how to make his life better.

His dead-end job, his demanding family, his oppressive feelings for Fiona and the pitiless city itself ... the great weight of it all threatens to come crashing down on him. The day will bring untold surprises and disasters, but will also show him - perhaps too late - that only love can set him free.

Sharply observed, hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling. Filled with shocks of recognition and revelation, it shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.


Angela Meyer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Stephen is a complex and challenging character (one of the siblings in Wood's previous, brilliant novel, The Children)...At times the reader may relate to Stephen when he feels upset, humiliated, confused, angry. But it is also suggested Stephen views life through a slightly blurred lens. One hint that Stephen is not seeing clearly is that whenever he thinks of his girlfriend Fiona, and her girls, it's with deep love and affection. From the beginning, then, it seems that breaking up with her may not be the best thing to do...Besides this main narrative drive - whether or not he will break up with Fiona - there are the ordinary moments in Stephen's day, such as talking to his mother on the telephone about the new TV she wants to buy. These moments are compelling because they are recognisable. But the novel's observations also compel because of a subtle tragicomedy. There are so many moments that feel simultaneously familiar and strange, humorous and sad: a security guard on a Segway, old people seeking seats on the bus, a paramedic dressed as a fairy. There's even a Kafkaesque sense of persecution: Stephen as one against the world...This is a compelling and ultimately moving novel that cements Wood's place as one of the most intelligent and compassionate novelists in Australia."

John Purcell on the "Booktopia" blog: "I read Charlotte Wood's novel Animal People twice. I think it's one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realised why this is. I don't want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it...The trouble is, I can't recommend it to just anybody...Sure, some part of me wants to help encourage complacent book club readers the world over to read it. I would like to think it would do them good (and Charlotte Wood's bank balance good). But, if the truth be told, I don't want them to...If they read it they may want to discuss it, as few people these days can understand a book without first discussing it with their peers. They may take the central character of Animal People, Stephen, and compare him with people they know. They may debate whether he is a sympathetic character or not. They may ask what the significance of the dog might be, what the title means, what the ending means. I don't want them to do any of these things. I want them to wander away from the safety of the group. I want them to let their guard down. I want them to be smacked in the face by Animal People. If they're not willing to take a few hits, I don't think they deserve to read Animal People."

Heather Dyer in "Bookseller+Publisher": "Clever and compassionate, Animal People will appeal to anyone who likes a story about relationships. Charlotte Wood has described this novel as a companion to The Children (Stephen is one of 'the children'), but it also works as a standalone novel."

Jo Case for "Readings": "Charlotte Wood's The Children is among my favourite Australian novels: she's just so good at the dynamics of relationships and minute social observations that give worlds of information about the people and places she captures. Woods' writing reminds me of Helen Garner's, in that it's easy to read, but deceptively so: it's rich with ideas and absolutely distinctive in its voice...So, I was pretty excited to receive Animal People, which follows one (monumentally bad) day in the life of middle-aged man-child Stephen, as he prepares to break up with his girlfriend. Stephen was a character in The Children, and others moonlight here too, but you don't need to have read that novel to thoroughly enjoy this one...Thoroughly recommended; it made me laugh and cry."

Clare Strahan on the "Overland" blog: "Wood's mastery of detail opens up the novel's sense of the whole in a very real way. One day offers an insight not only into Stephen's whole life but into 'society', into the weaving of personal and social, the bubble of internal experience and its fragility - the way it bumps up against (or crashes into) the hard edges of others (or our perception of others) and, sometimes, finds sanctuary, protected by the embracing places that are compassion and love...Wood gives us a clear picture of the (irrational?) fears and petty incomprehensions, prejudices and anxieties that drive Stephen from moment to moment during the chaos of a truly shitty day, but Stephen's overarching pathology is not explained: his compulsion to destroy what is good in his life is mysterious, as is his lovely girlfriend Fiona's love of him. "


Jo Case for "Readings".
Heather Dyer in "Bookseller+Publisher".
ABC Radio National's "Book Show".
Sandra Hogan on the "Perilous Adevntures" weblog.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 12, 2012 7:19 AM.

Reprint: The Adventures of a Push was the previous entry in this blog.

2012 Hugo Award Nominations is the next entry in this blog.

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