The Animals in That Country
Laura Jean McKay
WINNER OF THE ARTHUR C. CLARKE AWARD
A SUNDAY TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
Out on the road, no one speaks, everything talks.
Hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, and allergic to bullshit, Jean is not your usual grandma. She’s never been good at getting on with other humans, apart from her beloved granddaughter, Kimberly. Instead, she surrounds herself with animals, working as a guide in an outback wildlife park. And although Jean talks to all her charges, she has a particular soft spot for a young dingo called Sue.
As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is no ordinary flu: its chief symptom is that its victims begin to understand the language of animals – first mammals, then birds and insects, too. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean’s infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin.
Setting off on their trail, with Sue the dingo riding shotgun, they find themselves in a stark, strange world in which the animal apocalypse has only further isolated people from other species. Bold, exhilarating, and wholly original, The Animals in That Country asks what would happen, for better or worse, if we finally understood what animals were saying.
'McKay has written a searing dystopian critique of our relationship with the natural world ... Through poetic projections of what the animals might say if they could, McKay highlights our limited capacity to communicate with language, and our human-centric view of the natural order ... Earthy, visceral, at-times obscene and all-too-real, The Animals In That Country is nevertheless compelling and oddly buoying ... McKay is a masterful storyteller, and her talent truly shines in this quest for family and belonging.' -- Sheree Strange * Primer * 'The beauty of this book is that it never quite goes where the reader expects it to go. McKay zigs when the reader expects her to zag. And the whole builds to a kind of slow-moving climax ... The Animals in That Country takes an intriguing premise and absolutely runs with it. While delivering one of the strangest road trips ever, McKay considers the nature of family, the human response to the unknown and our relationship with the animals kingdom, among other things.' -- Robert Goodman * The Blurb * 'This is an absorbing and affecting book, and one to which I'm able to pay the highest compliment: that, in the days after finishing it, the world felt different to me, its animals not speaking but not silent either.' -- Ben Brooker * Australian Book Review * 'McKay is a master of voice-driven narrative. I never thought a substance-abusing grandmother was just who I needed to take me on an apocalyptic road trip - and that long after I gulped the book down, I'd be haunted by the words of a dingo called Sue.' -- Sofija Stefanovic, author of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia 'This is a beguiling, thought-provoking story penned with passion, intricate animals knowledge and great creativity ... Disturbing, challenging and addictive, the book prompts you to wonder about what animals are really thinking.' -- Sue Wallace * The Weekly Times * 'Strikingly original ... It's a tale that is at turns bizarre and surprisingly affecting, populated by a cast of richly idiosyncratic characters and posing timely questions about the ways we relate both to animals and to each other.' -- Gemma Nisbet * The Weekend West * 'A standout debut novel of 2020 ... Original, hugely entertaining and superbly crafted, this is one heck of a road-trip novel, whose timing and insights into human behaviour in a crisis could not be more prescient.' -- Alison Huber * Readings Booksellers * 'The genius stroke of The Animals in That Country is the preternatural 'body talk' of its animals ... an affecting book, one that gets remarkably close to the unknowable wildness of animal sentience.' -- Jack Callil * The Age * 'This is a work of not only remarkable linguistic skill but also one that brilliantly captures our relationship with the inhabitants of this wild world.' FOUR STARS -- Mitchell Jordan * The Big Issue * 'Eerily prescient ... The Animals in That Country offers a timely take on the fraught ways animals feature in our lives, and how devastating it would be if we heard what they had to say.' FIVE STARS -- Erin Stewart * ArtsHub * 'An incredible achievement in storytelling, and absolutely worth your time ... one of the best Australian novels of the year.' -- Nicholas Wasiliev * Booktopia * 'Laura Jean McKay, an expert in animal communication, has her animals speaking in hallucinogenic haikus - it's disturbing but compelling, and somehow totally believable. I loved every bizarre, unexpected moment.' -- Corinna Hente * Herald Sun * 'A wild and original ride of a read.' * New Idea * 'The writing is vibrant, energetic and refreshing, and the narrative leaps off the page ... a wild, engaging ride for readers.' -- Karen Viggers * The Australian * 'If you read The Animals in That Country, it will be the wildest ride you take all year.' -- Maria Takolander * The Saturday Paper * 'You know when you finish a book and you know that book will occupy your mind for a long time? The Animals in That Country is one of those. I haven't read a book like it and I don't think I will again ... The speech is almost poetic, full of metaphors and stunted syntax that (initially) confounds those hearing it ... This book is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and soul-crushingly depressing, in a way I can only describe as reminiscent of Waiting for Godot.' FIVE STARS -- Max Lewis * Good Reading * 'An imaginative tour de force - assured, compelling, and utterly original, this book will change how you see the world. Laura Jean McKay's powers are in full evidence here: her singular gift for empathy, enviable storytelling chops, and deftly elegant language will shift your frame of reference and leave you altered, in the best of ways. A unique and important work that explores the bond between humans and animals - and indeed throws the whole dividing line between us into doubt.' -- Meg Mundell, author of The Trespassers 'Weird, wonderful and strangely moving. I will be thinking about this strange book, about Jean and Sue, for a long long time.' -- Eloise Grills, author of Big Beautiful Female Theory '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 * Books+Publishing * 'Engrossing, subversive, and surprisingly profound, The Animals in That Country does something only the best fiction can do: it has the power to skew the reader's perspective on the world. This story will stay with me for a long time, and its protagonist, Jean Bennett, will be with me even longer.' -- J.P. Pomare, author of Call Me Evie 'Deliriously strange, blackly hilarious, and completely exhilarating, The Animals in That Country is a wonderful debut from a genuinely original and exciting new voice.' -- James Bradley, author of Clade 'In this warm, wild, and irreverent debut, Laura Jean McKay takes us into the minds of animals to reveal the complexity of their lives. The Animals in That Country avoids the trap of anthropomorphism, showing instead the absurd, intense, and shifting bonds between humans and animals.' -- Mireille Juchau, author of The World Without Us 'Reminiscent of Ceridwen Dovey's Only the Animals, McKay offers an exciting and necessary new voice in Australian fiction. We've all wished we could talk to animals, but McKay teaches us that we really should be careful what we wish for. By turns bizarre and profound, this is a striking debut.' -- Jaclyn Crupi, Hill of Content Bookshop 'This book drips with angst and excitement ... a truly original story teeming with intrigue.' -- Suzie Bull, Farrells Bookshop 'This novel is one wild ride, from beginning to end. I loved Jean's character - middle-aged, flawed, and foul-mouthed - desperately trying to keep herself together and to hold on to the family she has left. Sue the dingo is a glorious character, full of wild instinct yet all-knowing about the humans she encounters. This is one of the most unique, quirky stories I've read in a long time and a telling insight into how we see and relate to native wildlife. Laura Jean McKay's is a fresh, innovative voice with a story that grabs you by the muzzle, leading you on an apocalyptic trip that you won't forget easily.' * Jenny Barry, Booksplus Bathurst * 'Wow! The Animals in That Country is refreshingly original and totally bonkers, and I read it at a furious pace. Jean Bennett is one of the most memorable characters I've read in a long time. I loved her brass and her messiness, and when the end of times comes, most of us will be lucky to have half her loyalty and determination. The story is hugely imaginative and fully realised, with McKay in total control of her creative vision. She explores the potential of human/nonhuman communication, and the result is as poetic as it is surprising. A great debut novel.' -- Alison Huber, Book Division Manager Readings 'A taut exploration of loneliness and devotion, The Animals in That Country is rich with raw heartache and strange, carnal poetry.' -- Sue Rainsford, author of Follow Me to Ground 'This is a game-changing, life-changing novel, the kind that comes along right when you need it, and compels you to listen to its terrifying poetry. Compulsively readable and yet also pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of language and narrative, this is a brilliant and disturbing book that will make you rethink everything you thought you understood about non-human animal sentience and agency. I don't think any reader can ever forget a voice like Sue the dingo's - wise and obscene in equal measure. A triumph.' * Ceridwen Dovey, author of Only the Animals *
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