I haven’t read Charlotte Wood’s The Children so didn’t know anything about Stephen, a character Wood carried over from The Children to Animal People. That didn’t matter – Animal People stands alone and we learn lots about Stephen as the story unfolds.
The story is set in a single day. You learn early on that Stephen is planning to break up with his girlfriend, Fiona, that night. Although the ‘will he/ won’t he’ element is enough to keep you reading, it’s all the other things that happen in Stephen’s day that made Animal People a really good read.
A few large-ish issues crop up for Stephen but it’s the little, ordinary things that happen that I enjoyed – his awkward morning chit-chat with his dog-loving neighbours; his excruciating telephone call with his mum about buying a new tv; the black-and-white pants he wears (bought from Aldi, really comfortable) that people mistake for being ”chef’s pants” (he insists they are not); and the old lady who has bought Lynx for her grandson (and tells the whole bus).
In the same way that the tiny details shine, so do the bit parts – Fiona’s ex-husband Richard with his meaty hands and a ‘I still own this joint’ swagger, Fiona’s health-freak-clean-freak sister-in-law Belinda and Fiona’s parents, fresh-baked from Noosa. And Aleksander, Belinda’s son, who, in the chaos of a children’s birthday party, stood quietly licking the metal bolts on some book shelves –
“Aleksander’s quiet diligence at the shelves was one of the things that he admired about children. Their silent dedication to tasks that nobody else found interesting, or necessary, but which they could devote long, happy hours of improvement.”
I’d say read this book accompanied by a tin of Big Red Tomato Soup (it has a certain acid bite) and buttered toast but the book is set on a stinking hot day. You feel hot just reading it. So in that case, pop down to the milkbar and get yourself a Pine-Lime Splice and settle in for a good read.
4/5 (or in other words, put the final episode of Gossip Girl on pause and settle in with this top book).