Book Review: “The Animals in That Country” by Laura Jean McKay (@laurajeanmckay @scribepub)


You may think you know your pets, but what if you could understand what they say? What if the voices of all creatures big and small became loud and clear around you, starting from mammals and then spreading to insects and birds?

These are the questions raised by Laura Jean McKay in her debut novel The Animals in That Country. The book recently won Australia’s richest literary prize, the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature. It also took out the $25,000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction.

The story is told by Jane Bennet, a quick-thinking, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed grandmother who works as a guide in an outback wildlife park. Unable to get on well with other humans – except her beloved granddaughter Kimberly – Jane devotes herself to caring for her animals.

However, a strange pandemic spreads from the south, enabling those infected to hear what the animals have to say. Some end up releasing their pets. Others are haunted by the cries for help of those animals raised as food. Still others are determined to silence all nonhuman sounds.

When Kimberly is taken away by her father who seems to have been driven mad by the overwhelming voices, Jane embarks on a cross-country journey in hot pursuit. Riding shotgun is a young dingo named Sue, to whom Jane has a special connection.

The pair enters a strange new world where humans are “the den to come back to and a poison pellet all at once” to the animals. Their journey is dangerous yet hilarious, confusing yet ultimately inspiring, as humans are now just “it”, a member rather than the master of our world.

Nevertheless, The Animals in That Country is not a philosophical or moral tale. An experiment, rather than a lecture, the book invites readers to reflect on the fact that we belong to Mother Nature, instead of the other way around. And we are not her only child.

It is fun to read the thoughts and feelings of the crocodiles, cows, cats, pigs, birds, mice and other creatures depicted in The Animals in That Country. These appear in snippets of words in bold font, something between poetic statements and quirky mobile text messages.

In an interview, McKay recalls a chance encounter in the bush where she and an elderly kangaroo “had a moment together, where we were just staring at each other without fear”. She then asked herself: What would it be like if humans and animals were to have a shared language?

That sense of curiosity gave birth to this wonderful book, a wildly imaginative and adventurous story that challenges the boundaries of both our language and our empathy for other creatures surviving, living and thriving in this world.

Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country was published by Scribe Publications in March 2020. You can find an audio, digital or print copy of the book in your local library.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Enter the wild, wonderful world of talking animals”, by Ranges Trader Star Mail, on February 23, 2021, page 10.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Content Catnip
    Feb 25, 2021 @ 15:33:18

    I found you on Twitter where I shared your post under my other account @palmoildetect. I have just followed you, you have a great blog

    I think I will read this book as it looks so cool.


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