The Animals In That Country

The Animals In That Country

3.49 (2,498 ratings by Goodreads)
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Out on the road, no one speaks, everything talks.

Hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, and allergic to bullshit, Jean is not your usual grandma. She's never been good at getting on with other humans, apart from her beloved granddaughter, Kimberly. Instead, she surrounds herself with animals, working as a guide in an outback wildlife park. And although Jean talks to all her charges, she has a particular soft spot for a young dingo called Sue.

As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is no ordinary flu- its chief symptom is that its victims begin to understand the language of animals - first mammals, then birds and insects, too. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean's infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin.

Setting off on their trail, with Sue the dingo riding shotgun, they find themselves in a stark, strange world in which the animal apocalypse has only further isolated people from other species. Bold, exhilarating, and wholly original, The Animals in That Country asks what would happen, for better or worse, if we finally understood what animals were saying.

'This is a game-changing, life-changing novel, the kind that comes along right when you need it, and compels you to listen to its terrifying poetry. Compulsively readable and yet also pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of language and narrative, this is a brilliant and disturbing book that will make you rethink everything you thought you understood about non-human animal sentience and agency. I don't think any reader can ever forget a voice like Sue the dingo's - wise and obscene in equal measure. A triumph.'
-Ceridwen Dovey, author of Only The Animals

'A timely dystopian novel in which a dangerous flu sweeps across Australia, giving those infected the power to speak with animals, with dark, disturbing results.'
-Maxine Beneba Clarke

'A wildly inventive dystopian adventure ... Both a hell of a ride and a revealing thought experiment about our place in the natural world.'
-Dan Kois, Slate
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Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 153 x 232 x 26mm | 373g
  • Carlton North, Australia
  • English
  • 1925849538
  • 9781925849530
  • 113,301

Review quote

‘The genius stroke of The Animals in That Country is the preternatural ‘body talk’ of its animals ... an affecting book, one that gets remarkably close to the unknowable wildness of animal sentience.’
— Jack Callil, The Age

‘This is an absorbing and affecting book, and one to which I’m able to pay the highest compliment: that, in the days after finishing it, the world felt different to me, its animals not speaking but not silent either.’
— Ben Brooker, Australian Book Review

‘A fierce debut novel … Her writing about people is filthy, fresh, and funny; this is prose on high alert, hackles up and teeth bared in every sentence. The novel becomes both a stirring attempt to inhabit other consciousnesses and a wry demonstration of the limits of our own language and empathy. ’
— Justine Jordan, The Guardian

‘Laura Jean McKay, an expert in animal communication, has her animals speaking in hallucinogenic haikus — it’s disturbing but compelling, and somehow totally believable. I loved every bizarre, unexpected moment.’
— Corinna Hente, Herald Sun

‘What a pertinent time to be reading The Animals in That Country … the responses and lockdown efforts of the government and authorities in this novel mirror the scenario unfolding around the coronavirus pandemic … The writing is vibrant, energetic, and refreshing, and the narrative leaps off the page. Jean is an unexpected and unforgettable main protagonist. She's gutsy, raw, degenerate, and believable … [A] wild, engaging ride.’
— Karen Viggers, The Australian

‘What is so exciting about McKay’s novel is the way she refuses both anthropocentrism and the philosophical position that non-human animals are inevitably alien to us … [A]nother of the novel’s strengths is that its thought experiment is conducted without sentimentality, though it is always characterised by humour and warmth … The Animals in That Country will be the wildest ride you take all year.’
— Maria Takolander, The Saturday Paper

‘The Animals in That Country is an uncanny book, in no small part because it was released in March and has a pandemic is at its centre … McKay’s book is madcap and poetic by turns; concerned about exactly what constitutes the relationships between humans and animals, and how we see each other and interact in this world we share.’
— Fiona Wright, The Guardian

‘[The Animals in That Country] is disturbing and darkly comic, disrupting anthropocentric assumptions, revealing how animals might see our often violent intrusion into their lives … McKay’s innovation lies in the startlingly newness of the plot and the innovations in form in conveying animal voices as agentic and different … The Animals in that Country marks a striking new moment in animal representation in Australian fiction.’
— ALS Gold Medal Judge's' Citation

‘It was an absorbing read. Really inventive storytelling.’
— Kate Miller-Heidke, Sydney Morning Herald

‘[A] bravura investigation of the relations between humans and animals.’
— Lara Feigel, The Guardian

‘This is a game-changing, life-changing novel, the kind that comes along right when you need it, and compels you to listen to its terrifying poetry. Compulsively readable and yet also pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of language and narrative, this is a brilliant and disturbing book that will make you rethink everything you thought you understood about non-human animal sentience and agency. I don’t think any reader can ever forget a voice like Sue the dingo’s — wise and obscene in equal measure. A triumph.’
— Ceridwen Dovey, author of Only the Animals

‘In this warm, wild, and irreverent debut, Laura Jean McKay takes us into the minds of animals to reveal the complexity of their lives. The Animals in That Country avoids the trap of anthropomorphism, showing instead the absurd, intense, and shifting bonds between humans and animals.’
— Mireille Juchau, author of The World Without Us

‘Engrossing, subversive, and surprisingly profound, The Animals in That Country does something only the best fiction can do: it has the power to skew the reader’s perspective on the world. This story will stay with me for a long time, and its protagonist, Jean Bennett, will be with me even longer.’
— J.P. Pomare, author of Call Me Evie

‘Deliriously strange, blackly hilarious, and completely exhilarating, The Animals in That Country is a wonderful debut from a genuinely original and exciting new voice.’
— James Bradley, author of Clade

‘A timely dystopian novel in which a dangerous flu sweeps across Australia, giving those infected the power to speak with animals, with dark, disturbing results.’
— Maxine Beneba Clarke

‘Funny, original, and heartbreakingly timely. A love letter to family, communication, and “battlers” everywhere — both human and non-human.’
— R.W.R. McDonald, author of The Nancys

‘McKay is a master of voice-driven narrative. I never thought a substance-abusing grandmother was just who I needed to take me on an apocalyptic road trip — and that long after I gulped the book down, I'd be haunted by the words of a dingo called Sue.’
— Sofija Stefanovic, author of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia

'A taut exploration of loneliness and devotion, The Animals In That Country is rich with raw heartache and strange, carnal poetry.’
— Sue Rainsford, author of Follow Me to Ground

‘An imaginative tour de force — assured, compelling, and utterly original, this book will change how you see the world. Laura Jean McKay's powers are in full evidence here: her singular gift for empathy, enviable storytelling chops, and deftly elegant language will shift your frame of reference and leave you altered, in the best of ways. A unique and important work that explores the bond between humans and animals — and indeed throws the whole dividing line between us into doubt.’
— Meg Mundell, author of The Trespassers

‘Weird, wonderful and strangely moving. I will be thinking about this strange book, about Jean and Sue, for a long long time.’
— Eloise Grills, author of Big Beautiful Female Theory

‘As we grapple with a worldwide pandemic, Australian author McKay’s novel is incredibly timely and feels all the more real for it … filled with humour, optimism, and grace: a wild ride worth taking. An eye-opening glimpse into a world that’s turned upside down and eventually becomes its own version of whole.’
— Carol Gladstein, Booklist

‘A wildly inventive dystopian adventure … Both a hell of a ride and a revealing thought experiment about our place in the natural world.’
— Dan Kois, Slate

‘Surprising and surprisingly-convincing characters, and a well-realised, inventive premise.’
— Kate Evans, ABC News

‘McKay is a master at building tension through sparse, abrupt language that mirrors Jean’s decades of alcohol abuse, and the excellent world-building is enhanced by the exquisite chemistry between Jean and her canine companion Sue. Visceral and discombobulating yet tender, The Animals in That Country will appeal to readers who enjoyed the animal-led stories in Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals, and the foreboding road trip in Romy Ash’s Floundering.’
— Books+Publishing

‘Strikingly original ... It’s a tale that is at turns bizarre and surprisingly affecting, populated by a cast of richly idiosyncratic characters and posing timely questions about the ways we relate both to animals and to each other.’
— Gemma Nisbet, The Weekend West

‘You know when you finish a book and you know that book will occupy your mind for a long time? The Animals in That Country is one of those. I haven’t read a book like it and I don’t think I will again ... The speech is almost poetic, full of metaphors and stunted syntax that (initially) confounds those hearing it ... This book is simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and soul-crushingly depressing, in a way I can only describe as reminiscent of Waiting for Godot.’
— Max Lewis, Good Reading, starred review

‘A gritty and innovative wonder about an animal-borne virus (yep) that cracks opens channels between interspecies communication. The result is a raucous fever dream of a road story, evocative of Kenneth Cook, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ceridwen Dovey – but ultimately, McKay defies comparison.’
— Josephine Rowe

‘The Animals in that Country is that rare thing: an intellectually ambitious, formally innovative Australian novel that is accessible to a broad readership. It’s also wonderfully macabre … This is a work of fiction utterly capable of swaying the cultural imaginary … well-researched, impeccably crafted, and, above all, intelligent.’
— Julienne van Loon, The Conversation

‘Eerily prescient … The Animals in That Country offers a timely take on the fraught ways animals feature in our lives, and how devastating it would be if we heard what they had to say.’
— Erin Stewart, ArtsHub, starred review

‘A wild and original ride of a read.’
— New Idea

‘This book changed the way I look at the relationship between humans and animals, and it has one of the most wonderful dingo protagonists in Sue.’
— Krissy Kneen, Broadsheet

‘This is a work of not only remarkable linguistic skill but also one that brilliantly captures our relationship with the inhabitants of this wild world.’
— Mitchell Jordan, The Big Issue, starred review

‘An incredible achievement in storytelling, and absolutely worth your time ... one of the best Australian novels of the year.’
— Nicholas Wasiliev, Booktopia

‘A standout debut novel of 2020 ... Original, hugely entertaining and superbly crafted, this is one heck of a road-trip novel, whose timing and insights into human behaviour in a crisis could not be more prescient.’
— Alison Huber, Readings Booksellers

‘This is a beguiling, thought-provoking story penned with passion, intricate animals knowledge and great creativity ... Disturbing, challenging and addictive, the book prompts you to wonder about what animals are really thinking.’
— Sue Wallace, The Weekly Times

‘McKay does not offer us anthropomorphised cartoons, but a vocabulary formed by scent and breath … As the novel progresses, and more animals are introduced, it becomes impossible not to believe in McKay’s creative choices. In the arrangement and the rhythms and the personalities of each animal she translates, it is obvious McKay withheld nothing … McKay has not written a white lie about how lovely it would be to speak with a dog. Instead, she has asked that necessary, and uncomfortable question: Do we really want to know what the rest of the planet thinks of us?’
— Necessary Fiction

‘The beauty of this book is that it never quite goes where the reader expects it to go. McKay zigs when the reader expects her to zag. And the whole builds to a kind of slow-moving climax ... The Animals in That Country takes an intriguing premise and absolutely runs with it. While delivering one of the strangest road trips ever, McKay considers the nature of family, the human response to the unknown and our relationship with the animals kingdom, among other things.’
— Robert Goodman, The Blurb

‘McKay has written a searing dystopian critique of our relationship with the natural world … Through poetic projections of what the animals might say if they could, McKay highlights our limited capacity to communicate with language, and our human-centric view of the natural order … Earthy, visceral, at-times obscene and all-too-real, The Animals In That Country is nevertheless compelling and oddly buoying … McKay is a masterful storyteller, and her talent truly shines in this quest for family and belonging.’
— Sheree Strange, Primer

‘[A] compelling and haunting debut … Scattered with dark humour and driven by a compelling plot, The Animals in That Country is an outstanding and timely examination of human morality. It will change the way you view both animals and the world.’
— Chloë Cooper, Audrey Magazine

‘The Animals in That Country is not a philosophical or moral tale. An experiment, rather than a lecture, the book invites readers to reflect on the fact that we belong to Mother Nature, instead of the other way around. And we are not her only child … A wildly imaginative and adventurous story that challenges the boundaries of both our language and our empathy for other creature surviving, living and thriving in this world.’
— Christine Sun, Upper Yarra Mail

‘The exploration of kinship, the untrusting nature of people and how different animal species view humans are stand-out aspects of this novel. The ‘rough as guts’ Jean is a loveable and humorous narrator and her relationship with Sue makes for great comedic relief during the times in the story when they are in unwelcoming company and ‘animal free’ zones … [B]eing offered glimpses into animals’ minds was one of the most powerful offerings of this novel. This is a book for anyone who has ever wanted to talk to animals, or even just looked at their pet and wondered what they were thinking.’
— Nelya Valamanesh, InDaily

‘A stunning and disquieting account of a virus which gives infected humans the ability to understand animals.’
— Massey University

‘Delves into relationships, how we communicate, and our often complicated relationships with family members. A book that explores more than your typical road trip, with a certainly less than typical sidekick, the book is fresh, funny, and full of characters.’
— Forbes

‘While humour is rampant, [The Animals in That Country] is all too disturbingly believable. By them being given a voice, a set of languages humans can understand, animals’ intelligence— and rights—are recognised. [This novel] is a barking, squawking, roaring, brawling free-for-all. And considering it was written pre-corona, yes, preposterous in its prescience, too.’
— Craig Pearce, Wild Magazine

‘[Laura Jean McKay's] book is like two novels sandwiched together: one about an outback road-chase involving a hard-living, middle-aged woman, the other a dystopian tale of a pandemic, the main symptom of which causes societal collapse. What is admirable is how the excitement of the first and the significance of the second intertwine so that both become part of a whole, where the philosophical questions raised by the power shift between animals and humans are present without overburdening the action of the chase. Darkly funny, this engrossing novel has a surprisingly affecting end.’
— Janet Newman, Landfall Review Online
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About Laura Jean Mckay

Laura Jean McKay is a writer and a lecturer in creative writing at Massey University in New Zealand. Her debut novel, The Animals in That Country (Scribe, 2020), won the 2021 Victorian Prize for Literature and the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction. She is also the author of Holiday in Cambodia (2013).
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Rating details

2,498 ratings
3.49 out of 5 stars
5 19% (479)
4 32% (810)
3 31% (779)
2 13% (317)
1 5% (113)
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