On Writers

Animal People

by Charlotte Wood,
Allen and Unwin, Sydney 2011.

I finished this novel by a subterfuge, reading the beginning, then the ending, but I couldn’t face the middle. I couldn’t care for the character Stephen, or care about him, or read more of his whining.

The hilarious, tender and heartbreaking story of Stephen –aimless, unhappy and unfulfilled, this stiflingly hot Decemberday is the day he has decided to dump his girlfriend. A sharply observed 24-hour urban love story. - Allen and Unwin.

The circumstance Wood wants to draw upon is that someone mean-minded about animals will be mean-minded about people, so is destined for loneliness. The structural problem here is that we can’t like the central character until his epiphany, which arrives at the very end, so we may not persevere long.

The beginning was poor, so I was surprised at the strength of the ending, where his lover Fiona and her children comfort the dying dog, killed by a car, but we now they are also comforting Stephen who, until the moment of the collision, was incapable of loving a dog, and by implication, loving other people.

Charlotte Wood is reported participating in a panel of novelists, each of whom gives a technique for increasing the narrative drive of the story so to hold the reader. Charlotte Woods’ technique is, ‘Everything gets worse.’