"Animal People" and "The Children"

Animal People by Charlotte Wood I just couldn't put down. A short novel without cliche or hackneyed phrase, but with economy of style, it held me spellbound. There is none of that annoying padding taking you nowhere. The simple story of a disastrous day in the life of Stephen who makes hot chips in the kiosk at Taronga Zoo and is allergic to animal hair, I enjoyed it because it was familiar. Recurring references to black and white check pants from Aldi suggest how gauche he is. There are many indirect comments on our relationships with animals, including the surprise ending. I loved the scene with the stand-in fairy - the rather large mother of the woman running the children's party entertainment.

Then I just had to read The Children, where the anti-hero Stephen first appears - same spare language, but language that is new and thought-provoking. Father has a serious fall from roof, children gather at home to support mother. Many tensions arise and are semi-resolved. Recurring allusions to war in Afghanistan. Mandy, one of the daughters, is a war-correspondent, and extremely traumatised. Her accounts of her life and work there are quite confronting; is it moral that people in a sleepy Australian country town do not care about Afghanistan, and if they did, what difference would it make? Both novels are beautifully written. Animal People was long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award this year. Charlotte Wood is not merely a storyteller but an artist working with situations, words and ideas. There is some dispute as to present-tense narration being a modern affectation, but it really has its place here, making the story vivid, like a film unfolding. We the readers are part of the action, anything can happen.

Five stars!