The Animals in That Country is a (weirdly prescient) book that takes place at the onset of a viral flu pandemic. However, instead of developing a questionable sense of grocery store etiquette, those infected with the virus develop an ability to communicate with animals.
The story follows Jean, a wannabe park ranger who has a penchant for booze, smoking menthols and online trolling. When her son is infected with the virus and takes off with her granddaughter, Jean accepts help from an escaped dingo named Sue to track them down.
Laura Jean McKay is a fantastic writer with a sharp style that complements the harsh protagonist and setting of the book. Jean is a refreshingly real character who is a far cry from the British pre-teens we are more accustomed to seeing speak with animals in fiction.
The way that McKay executes her idea of animal communication is both fascinating and disturbing. Towards the middle of the book, I fell out of the story a little trying to find deeper meaning in what the animals were saying – probably because my inner-child just wanted a story about fluently affectionate animals. But then, was McKay manipulating me to empathise with Jean? Frustrated by the need for a deeper sense of connection, if not from fellow humans then from the animal companions that we desperately anthropomorphise? Either way, the story quickly sucked me back in and made my heart pound.
This book is an impressive debut that has reminded me how much I have been neglecting some great Australian fiction. I would recommend this book to fantasy readers who loved N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season or Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City.
The Animals in That Country is available now in eBook, and the hardcover will be published 10th Sep 2020.
Thank you to Netgalley, Scribe UK and Laura Jean McKay for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.