I picked up this book at the library because I was looking for something different. And a different new author. Boy did I hit the jackpot. Animalia is of epic scope from a literature perspective though the animals are pretty much restricted to pigs and people (not the whole animal kingdom as the title suggests). Other than an occasional rat, rabbit, duck or snake the author’s preoccupation is shit – food that goes in and comes out as mountains of shit. Literally it is shit. Then of course there is the other half – metaphorical – need I say it again – shit. Sometimes other body fluids too. But even with all that, there is room for lyrical prose, deft characterization, stinking stys and a harsh indictment of modern society that makes the mean poverty stricken landscape of yore (in rural France) seem like the good old days.
Enough to turn you vegetarian. I found the detailed descriptions of pig-farming reminiscent of movies I have seen on the atrocities of beef (or chicken) farming so from that perspective I am not sure if I found something new in the book. But what is most commendable and fascinating about Animalia is the travel through time – the poor pathetic family that grows from owning one pig to a rich even more pathetic family that owns a gazillion pigs. Their transition and the damning effects of war on society are the bigger picture in the story. For that it is a must read. And if I ignore half the words in the book dealing with shit and associated activity, the other half of the words are sheer poetry.
I give it a thumbs up but read it at your own risk. I wish the author had managed to find some beauty in the bleakness because that is how life is. But he doesn’t.