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, Animalia: A Novelrabbit, 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.