Stephen is a man living an almost adolescent life. He has a crappy job at a zoo cafe, rents a small flat and the state of his bed sheets doesn’t bear thinking about. He also has a loving girlfriend but he’s about to dump her, commitment being out of his emotional range. The story takes place over a single day from hell that begins with Stephen accidentally hitting a junkie with his car. Despite working at the zoo, Stephen is not an animal person, and finds the fixation people have with their pets mystifying. A visit to what he thought was a toy shop for children turns out to be a pet shop where they sell ‘Tushie Wipes’ for dogs and cats. The bizarre nature of this scene fits perfectly with Stephen’s day. I think we all know someone like Stephen for whom the real world isn’t a good fit; someone you sympathise with, but also want to shake. 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. (See interview here.)
Heather Dyer is the owner of Fairfield Books in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.