ANIMAL PEOPLE BY CHARLOTTE WOOD
Charlotte Wood’s Animal People is a brilliant satire on modern urban life. Set in Sydney, Animal People follows Stephen, a middle-aged man-child, through one of the worst days of his life. One in which everything that could go wrong, does. Stephen is a character from Wood’s bestselling novel The Children.
Wood has a droll style of intelligent observer of human behaviour. Animal People is humorous, if often uncomfortable reflection, of modern Australian city life. At once entertaining and familiar, the novel explores the theme of the relationship between animals and humans against the harsh realities of daily city life.
The limitations of the time-frame, (the story is set in a single day), means that the novel is tight and the narrative very descriptive. I loved Wood’s colourful descriptions; you can feel the oppressive heat of the sweltering city as the action builds towards a tense and dramatic conclusion.
Stephen is a challenging character. I couldn’t decide if he was a no-hoper or a deep thinker. He is likeable, yet as Wood writes about her characters with such honesty, at times I felt detached, finding it hard to maintain sympathy for him.
Animal People is made up of small, but in Wood’s hands, brilliant moments; the kinds of things that could happen on any given day in a city. Everyone would identify with something in this story as Wood picks apart the warts of society in a humorous way. Such as the crazy guy on the bus: a muttering dishevelled young man who wears glasses without lenses and sends a ‘shiver of anxiety’ rippling through the other passengers as he lurches down the aisle searching for a seat. Stephen makes a desperate bid to avoid conversation—he ‘stared out of the window, stared so hard his eyes watered.’
Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a skilfully written story told with great integrity and compassion.
Reviewed by Annie Chapman