Shortlisted for the 2021 Stella Prize
The Animals in That Country – Laura Jean McKay
Fiction · Scribe
About the book
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.
“The Animals in That Country explores our – often fraught – relationships with family, animals, environment and country and how we commodify and abuse each and all of these. A must read.”
– 2021 Stella Prize Judges
About the author
Laura Jean McKay
Laura Jean McKay is the author of The Animals in That Country, winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Victorian Prize for Literature 2021. She is also the author of Holiday in Cambodia. Laura is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University.
“A fierce debut novel … Her writing about people is filthy, fresh and funny; this is prose on high alert, hackles up and teeth bared in every sentence. ” Justine Jordan, The Guardian
“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
“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’s prescient The Animals in That Country begins as a flu-like pandemic spreads its way across the countryside, rendering those afflicted with the ability to understand what animals, both wild and domestic, have to say. The plot is centred on Jean, together with the dingo Sue, embarking on a chaotic road trip to retrieve her granddaughter from her estranged son, who has spirited her away. As well as an intriguing plot, the author has gifted the reader a most unusual protagonist, the hard drinking and smoking, somewhat unreliable grandmother, Jean.
As the action progresses the voices of the various animal species become more urgent. Their dialogue is poetic yet also visceral, disturbing, challenging and often funny. The Animals in That Country explores our – often fraught – relationships with family, animals, environment and country and how we commodify and abuse each and all of these. A must read.
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